For most of us, noise at work is often associated with industrial sectors such as construction or the automotive industry, for example. While it’s true that professional noise pollution is the daily lot of employees in these industries, unfortunately they don’t have the monopoly. Noise in the workplace is something that affects many other professions. Noise pollution also exists in the tertiary sector and lots of employees are exposed to noise in their professional environment.

What does the Labour Code say about noise in the workplace?

worker with hearing protection using a saw in a factory

In terms of prevention, information and the obligation to act on harmful noise at work, the Labour Code is quite specific on the actions to be taken.

A regulatory framework for prevention and action against noise pollution in the workplace

Prevention of exposure to noise

Noise in the workplace is a problem that falls under risks within the professional environment, in the same way as psychosocial risks. Preventing occupational risks is the subject of a specific article in the Labour Code. As such, an employer is obliged to prevent as far as possible the risks encountered by their employees. To do this, they must put in place several preventive actions, such as:

  • Assessing the noise level;
  • The precise search for the source of noise in order to avoid it as much as possible;
  • Information and training for employees;
  • Taking collective protection and individual protection measures.

Legal obligations

To reduce the negative impact of noise at work, the regulations are precise and based on four main actions:

  • Acting on the work environment: manufacturing quieter machines, taking actions to reduce the noise from existing machines as much as possible;
  • Taking into account the issue of acoustic comfort in the construction or renovation of professional premises;
  • Using premises appropriately and ensuring that noise is reduced as much as possible;
  • Informing employees of their right to use and choose individual hearing protection.

Regulatory hours for noise in the workplace

Noise is one of the most contested issues, whether in business or in everyday life. As with any other type of nuisance, noise pollution is subject to specific official regulations regarding acceptable hours. As such, any company is required to limit its noise emissions from 7.00am to 10.00pm, every day of the week. However, noise is strictly prohibited at night, on Sundays and on public holidays.

Good to know: there are local regulations that may apply to some businesses. To find out about the specific prefectural decrees, contact the Town Hall or Prefecture of your place of work.

Which industries are most affected by noise pollution at work?

Noise at work in the automotive sector

The automotive industry is a very large manufacturing sector with many different trades. The occupational risks are therefore considerable, particularly in terms of noise pollution. Actions such as metal machining, sheet metal stamping, forging and all bodywork, chassis mounting and assembly activities generate noise that’s hazardous to hearing health. Employees in this sector must wear appropriate hearing protection, which must be provided to them by their employer.

Noise pollution in the construction industry

Noise is an inseparable component of the construction and public works sector. Indeed, on construction sites or in workshops, the use of noisy machines and tools is inevitable. Grinders, jackhammers, saws, cement mixers, construction vehicles: the opportunities for being exposed to a high sound level in the construction industry are as diverse as they are numerous. To limit the impact on hearing, it’s essential to wear hearing protection. Noise cancelling headphones, custom earplugs, acoustic barriers: the protective devices are numerous and effective if used wisely.

Noise exposure in the metalworking sector

Did you know that the average noise level in a metal workshop is 95 dB? Which is 15 dB above the regulatory level of 80 dB. For comparison, 95 dB roughly corresponds to the sound level of an ambulance siren. What’s more, in the metallurgy sector, the noisy environment is mostly made up of high-pitched sounds. And it turns out that high-pitched sounds are more dangerous for hearing health than low-pitched sounds. So, as for the industrial sectors mentioned above, wearing hearing protection is strongly recommended, even compulsory.

Noise risks in the food industry

The agri-food sector is also greatly affected by the problem of noise in the workplace. Noise pollution in the food industry is mainly generated by the use of many specific machines related to the manufacture, cutting or packaging of food products. By experiencing noise pollution every day, employees in the food industry are particularly exposed to the risk of long-term deafness. Equipping employees in this sector with hearing protection is not just an obligation for their health, but also a way to improve productivity through better working conditions.

Is the tertiary sector affected by noise at work?

Noise pollution in the workplace isn’t exclusively reserved for industries known for their noisy activity. Noise exposure also concerns people working in the tertiary sector. Rather than noise issues directly linked to the activity, we’re talking more about the annoyance caused by a noisy work environment in the tertiary sector. However, these situations shouldn’t be taken lightly and can eventually lead to physiological and psychological processes leading to real problems. The proliferation of "open space" offices also promotes an increase in the phenomenon of noise pollution at work. A permanent excessive noise level ends up having a lasting effect on office workers. Fatigue, stress, difficulty concentrating: the consequences of noise in the office are real both on the health of the people who work there and on the productivity, quality of life and brand image of the company.

What’s the best way to protect yourself from noise in the workplace?

Depending on the nature of the noise in the workplace, there are several ways to protect yourself effectively. In the various particularly noisy industrial sectors, individual hearing protection is essential. The ideal is to provide hearing plugs made to measure for optimal efficiency. In fact, custom earplugs are made from a moulding of the ear canal and can therefore be worn without discomfort or pain. In addition, they have the immense advantage of not isolating the user from the rest of their external environment. Custom moulded plugs protect against harmful noise while allowing you to continue to communicate normally with the people around you. It is first and foremost a question of comfort, as well as safety. Total auditory isolation leads to an erroneous perception of the sound environment: it can cause serious accidents.

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