EU starts campaign on noise before it introduces lower workplace limitsBMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7498.984-b (Published 28 April 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:984
The European Union has launched a campaign to reduce noise levels across the continent, backed by new mandatory rules on the maximum permitted decibel levels at work.
According to the World Health Organization hearing loss caused by noise is “the most prevalent irreversible industrial disease.” In the EU alone it is estimated that more than 13 million people—employed not just in heavy industry but in education, entertainment, and the services sector—have impaired hearing from workplace noise.
Vladimir Špidla, the EU commissioner for social affairs, has endorsed the campaign. He said: “Noise goes beyond hearing problems. It can cause accidents at work and increase stress levels. It is a growing concern all over Europe, in workplaces from factories and farms to schools and call centres.”
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work places noise induced hearing loss alongside dermatitis and musculoskeletal disorders as one of the EU's most common occupational diseases. It notes that 29% of workers in EU countries are exposed to high noise levels for more than a quarter of their working time.
In France 6% of the workforce experiences noise levels above 85 dB (equivalent to heavy road traffic) for more than 20 hours a week. In Spain more than 7% admit to being seriously disturbed by noise at work, and in Denmark almost 30% say they have to raise their voices to talk to colleagues.
Increasingly, people working in call centres get acoustic shocks when they experience a sudden increase in high frequency noise through their headsets because of interference on the phone line. A Finnish study has found that pianists are exposed to noise levels of 94 dB and a soprano up to 104 dB (higher than the noise from a pneumatic drill).
Under new EU legislation, which will be enforced from February 2006, the maximum allowable level of exposure to noise will be reduced to 87 dB. This is 5 dB less than the current ceiling agreed by European governments in 1986.
The new rules also stipulate that “the risks arising from exposure to noise shall be eliminated at their source or reduced to a minimum.” This will require employers to carry out risk assessments. Where possible the source of the noise should be eliminated. Failing this, measures must be taken to reduce employees' exposure either by relocating or enclosing the equipment or installing mufflers and silencers. As a last resort personal protective equipment may be used.
The agency's “stop that noise” campaign was launched on 20 April, international noise awareness day. It includes information packs in all the EU's official languages, awareness raising posters and leaflets, special events, good practice awards, and a multilingual website.
For more information on the campaign see http://ew2005.osha.eu.int/