Chances are we have all often found ourselves in a place where the noise is as loud as or louder than heavy city traffic. Or where we’ve had to raise our voice to speak to somebody who is a metre away from you.

What many people don’t realise is that these noise levels may harm their hearing. And once the damage is done, it is permanent and there is no cure.

Many New Zealanders work in noisy workplaces. Exposure to excessive noise at work can lead to noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Working in noisy environments is also associated with an increased risk of ischaemic heart disease through the increased physical stress of noise causing increased blood pressure. It also has the potential to become a workplace safety risk if workers are not as able to hear instructions or mobile hazards.

Noise is a priority health risk for WorkSafe. Businesses are required by law to manage all workplace health and safety risks.

It’s not just about providing hearing protection to reduce noise exposure. The best way to reduce noise exposure is to:

  • remove the noise source entirely
  • quieten the noise source
  • stop the noise from reaching people
  • reduce time of exposure to noise

Professional noise measurement is recommended to determine if a noise is likely to be harmful.

Noise destroys nerve cells in the inner ear that transmit sound messages to the brain. The nerve cells are replaced by scar tissue which doesn’t respond to sound.

In terms of what you lose, it’s mainly high-frequency sounds like birdsong or the rustle of an animal in the grass, but you may still be able to hear faint high-frequency sounds like a car in the distance.

Somebody with noise-induced hearing loss may think many words sound alike and other people’s speech is jumbled. This can lead to misunderstandings as people may think the person with the hearing loss is pretending not to hear, doesn't seem to understand, or is just being annoying.