The 5 biggest mistakes with noise at work

A talk with Ralph Schöne from Cirrus Research

Foto: industrieblick/

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health of the DGUV reports: 20 percent of European workers are exposed to high noise levels. Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common recognized occupational disease in Germany. Although the EU has established binding limit values for "noise at work", this source of danger is often neglected or the measurements are not carried out professionally. Ralph Schöne from Cirrus Research, a global specialist for Noise Measurement, is talking about the 5 biggest mistakes with noise at the workplace.

Mistake No. 1: Ignoring the problem

It is almost self-explanatory why this is a mistake: Employees can be exposed to high noise levels that damage hearing. Furthermore, noise can affect concentration and thus lead to wrong decisions and accidents. Not to forget the penalties and loss of reputation in the event of infringement of the EU directive.

Therefore keep your eyes and ears open: Locate potential noise hazards and get a valid overview of the exposure of employees. If it exceeds action levels and limit values, determine what to do: Can you take measures to reduce noise, or do you have to provide hearing protection? Very important: Conduct risk assessments regularly to ensure optimal protection.

Mistake No. 2: Unsuitable devices

There are different types of noise measuring devices - divided in handsets and fixed units. Therefore, the crucial question is: Do you use the appropriate equipment? Does it comply with the required standard and it can be calibrated? If not, useless measurement results are often the result. Expensive and annoying!

So you should clarify in advance whether a fixed installation is possible or whether the employee, for example, is carrying the device the entire working day but still needs his hands free. In this case, a special noise dosimeter is the right choice. Another important note: The most complicated equipment is not necessarily the best for your Needs.

Mistake No. 3: Improper Measuring

Even the best equipment cannot correct this error. The consequence: your results are not accurate and therefore not representative. This means they can be questioned in possible disputes.

According to EU directive, workplace-related measurements are to be carried out at face level – preferably without the relevant employee in the workplace. If the employee must be present, the measurement should be done at a distance of at least 15 cm. Additionally check whether the employee is right- or left-handed, because this can affect the measurement results.

Mistake No. 4: No calibration in advance

How can you know without calibration if your unit is damaged or malfunctioning? Particularly the microphone is a sensitive part of the measuring device. Therefore, the motto is: use a sound calibrator before and after the measurement. It is best to order the calibrator together with the device so you will definitely get the right model. An important note about this: your calibrator should be at least class 2 in accordance with IEC 60942:2003.

In addition to your own calibration, the device has to be factory calibrated at least once every two years. This ensures that both sound level meter as well as calibrator are working properly. We recommend our customers to conduct an factory calibration every year.

Mistake No. 5: Not using optimization potential

No matter if quieter machines, flexible working hours, noise barriers or sound absorbing panels – the general rule is: Noise mitigation potentials should always be used first. In case of an emergency, the responsible authorities can still commit you to action.

Even if you have found a source of noise hazards and provided hearing protection or reduced the ambient noise below 70 decibels, a residual risk remains. So always ask yourself: Can you reduce it? Maybe your recent actions even are over-protecting your employees which means they are no longer possible to perceive warning sounds in dangerous situations.

Another tip: Choose hearing protection that is appropriate for the work environment and take account of the aspects of comfort and hygiene.