Noise levels at work and the impact on mental health

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Health Assured team

09 December 2019

As an employer, your duty of care to your staff extends to all aspects of their wellbeing. This includes their hearing.

A certain degree of noise is expected in the workplace. However, continued and excessive noise levels at work can affect the physical and mental health of your employees. Depending on the level of exposure, hearing loss can happen gradually or instantly.

The government introduced the Control of Noise at Work Regulations in 2005, which came into force in April 2006. It aims to protect employees from excessive noise in their place of work.

As well as highlighting regulations related to noise levels at work, we’ll explore the effects of noise pollution and its link to mental health. We’ll also provide helpful tips for managing the noise levels in your place of work.

Noise at work regulations

No matter the industry or the working environment, chances are your staff will be exposed to a certain degree of noise.

Examples of the most common distracting noises include:

  • Phone ringing and conversations.
  • Personal discussions.
  • Sudden laughter.
  • Doors slamming.
  • Eating and slurping noises.

Exposure to noise over a long period can be detrimental. In 1989, the government introduced legislation governing noise levels in the workplace. They then developed on this to create the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

This regulation sets out your legal obligations to controlling noise at work. Its main aim is to reduce the risks of hearing damage or loss because of excessive noise at work.

In the 2005 Regulation, the HSE details acceptable noise levels in the workplace. It highlights the level at which you must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones (85 decibels).

It also highlights the levels at which you must access the risks to your workers’ health (80 decibels). This is in contrast to the 1989 regulation where you’re required to take action to protect your employees when noise levels are at 90 decibels.

While there are no legal noise levels at work, the figures highlighted show how loud noise can get before you have to take action.

It’s worth noting, both the 1989 and 2005 regulations are based on EU directives that require similar laws on protecting workers throughout the European Union (EU).

Noise pollution vs mental health

It’s not uncommon for the work environment to be the source of issues relating to the wellbeing of your workforce, which then goes on to affect productivity and work quality.

The same applies to noise in the workplace. Over time, exposure to excessive noise can have negative impacts on the mental health of your staff. As well as issues relating to their inability to concentrate and increased irritation, there’re also certain effects of noise pollution on mental health.

A 2019 noise and wellbeing at work survey found that 65% of employees surveyed reported the noise in their workplace had an impact on their ability to complete work in an accurate and timely manner.

They also found that almost half of the employees surveyed (44%) believed working in noisy conditions harmed their stress levels and overall wellbeing.

Examples of issues that may arise due to excessive noise in the workplace include:

Increased stress levels: Loud and prolonged exposure to certain noises is a major trigger for most people. Various studies have confirmed that excessive noises can create mental fatigue that impairs judgement and reduces morale. It also triggers physiologic stress responses such as spikes in blood pressure and increases in blood rate.

Anxiety: Employees already aware of the effects of noise pollution on mental health may feel some level of anxiety about working in such an environment. Apart from stress, other possible health effects of noise pollution include: stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption and lost productivity. All of which is bound to increase the feeling of anxiety about going to work.

If left unaddressed these issues may develop into other underlying health conditions such as depression, weight loss or gain, high blood pressure, etc.

To avoid this, consider investing in an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Such programmes aim to help employees mental health in the workplace and deal with personal or professional problems that might influence their work performance.

Find out more about EAP’s


Noise at work policy

To manage exposure to noise at work effectively, it’s important to have policies in place that reflect your stance on noise in the workplace. As well as highlighting your responsibilities, including the need to take action when noises reach a certain level, the policy should include wording related to the violation of the policy.

Other aspects to cover in the policy include the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if needed, the importance of reporting work situations where there’s a risk to themselves and others, how to report workplace issues and to whom they’ll report it.

Your staff must also accept and understand their responsibility for reducing the risks of exposure to noise and comply with any instructions or requirement by management to ensure their wellbeing.

Expert support

Contact Health Assured today for more information on managing noise in the workplace. Alternatively, if you have any other occupational health issues, call us free on 0844 892 2493.

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