Noise levels at your place of work can affect your health, wellbeing and productivity. Noise distractions can occur in any work setting, from busy production lines and warehouses to office environments. Noise distractions can have a negative impact on your performance and increase the likelihood of errors, whatever type of environment you work in.
For the purpose of this ‘blog’, we will be concentrating on how noise levels affect people that work in an office and how to reduce those noise levels.
Since our ears have no natural protective mechanism (unlike the eye which shrinks the pupil when strong light comes in), our ears are always sensitive to noise.
One of the most common annoying background noises in an office are conversations between colleagues. If that area of the office has an echo or if the conversation is in a foreign language, the impact can become even higher. Printers and photocopiers also add to background noise as do air conditioning units. Even the noise of a phone ringing can disturb someone’s concentration.
When concentration levels are interrupted by background noise, a person becomes less productive. This can contribute to stress, anxiety and eventually lead to depression and insomnia. There is also a higher risk of accidents and errors being made.
How to reduce noise levels in the workplace
Many offices are now open-plan and are busy call centres with shift workers all of which lend themselves to being noisy environment.
To reduce the impact of noise, you should consider the following:
- Design of a work area, ensuring that small and large offices do not reverberate excessively
- The installation of sound absorbing ceilings, such as a suspended ceiling
- Walls could be lined with acoustic objects such as material, slotted or perforated panels, sound absorbing wall elements (e.g. pictures).
- Slatted blinds at windows improve acoustics
- Flooring should be carpet or Lino
- Locate printers and copiers in a separate room to the main office
- Use partition walls covered with fabric to divide different areas of the office.
When you follow the above guidelines, noise levels in your workplace will reduce. Concentration levels will increase, therefore promoting wellbeing and productivity.
How is noise measured?
Noise is measured in decibels (dB). An ‘A-weighting’ sometimes written as ‘dB(A)’, is used to measure average noise levels, and a ‘C-weighting’ or ‘dB(C)’, to measure peak, impact or explosive noises. You might notice a 3 dB change in noise level, because of the way our ears work. But, every 3 dB doubles the noise, so what might seem like small differences in the numbers can be quite significant.
What noise levels should you be aiming for in your workplace?
The following table contains the guide values for noise exposure.
Noise reduction target values (DGUV, 215-410)
Noise pollution in dB(A)*
< 80 dB(A)
< 70 dB(A)
Activities with special concentration
< 55 dB(A)
* dB(A): Unit for sound pressure level (sensation of sound by the human ear)
To put this into perspective, here are some examples of noise levels measured in dB: