Ontario's noise regulation prohibits exposing workers to a time-weighted average exposure noise level at or above 85 dbA over eight hours. But what about noise at lesser levels? While it may not cause hearing loss, it could affect mental health and productivity - a particular concern for employees who work from home, have less control of their environment, and may be bombarded by unwanted noises from a variety of sources.
Distracting and intrusive noise in home offices can come from outside the home (construction, traffic, kids playing, lawn mowers), inside the home (people/kids talking, listening to music, air conditioners or appliances), and even from the software we use to carry out video calls (echoes).
Annoying noise sources may trigger noise sensitivity, irritation, stress, and sleep disturbances. Focus, concentration, and productivity may also be affected, says Warren Clements, WSPS Specialized Services Lead (Occupational Hygiene). "You may have a project, a target, a deadline. If you can’t think and get your work done, that’s upsetting because it reduces your work performance."
With International Noise Awareness Day coming up on April 27, now is an optimum time to raise awareness of noise hazards among your teleworkers and provide solutions. Warren offers seven tips to help you do this.
Share these seven tips with your at-home employees
Research carried out during COVID-19 indicates that better psychological well-being is associated with comfortable soundscapes. Control random noises with these tips.
- Set up your workspace in a quiet room, with a door, and away from other people. A recent study found that 43% of teleworkers share their workspace, such as a living room or kitchen. Working in a separate room reduces ambient noise and minimizes disruptions from other people’s phone and video calls. If working in a separate room is not possible, put rules in place to reduce sound created by others.
- Furnish your workspace to absorb sounds. Furniture with soft surfaces, not wood, will absorb sound, as will carpets and rugs. Locate your workstation away from noise sources, such as fans.
- Put a sock in it. While door socks can be used to block drafts and potentially reduce heating bills, they are also an inexpensive way to block noise, says Warren.
- Take breaks. "Breaks are a good idea between long phone calls or video meetings," advises Warren. Irritation from noise, commonly known as "ear fatigue," may occur after extended exposure to auditory stimuli. If you experience irritation from noise sources, allow your ears 5 to 10 minutes to recover.
- Wear noise-cancelling headphones. Regular headsets block some noise but don’t work well when there is a lot of background noise. "The more background noise, the more listeners must increase the headset volume to hear customers, clients or co-workers while teleworking," says Warren. "This means you are still being exposed to noise that's loud and irritating over the course of the day, which can affect your work and well-being."
- Avoid wearing headsets set at high volume, and if possible stay away from ear buds, which may exacerbate ear fatigue. With noise-cancelling headphones, there’s no need to increase the volume, thereby reducing the risk of ear fatigue.
- Mute your mic. Do you hear an irritating echo during videoconferences? It may occur when the sound of the person talking is picked up by other microphones. To avoid this, mute your microphone except when speaking. If you are hosting the meeting, mute everyone but the speaker.
How WSPS can help
- Our occupational hygiene consultants can help you assess workplace noise levels, identify ways to reduce noise levels and develop hearing loss prevention programs. Find out more by connecting with a consultant.
Training and webinars
- Noise Awareness - a free 1.5-hour virtual WSPS Safety Connection session. Register today for a session on June 9 or July 12.
- Preventing Hearing Loss from Workplace Noise (1-hour eCourse)
- A guide to the Noise Regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act
- How to know if your workplace may need a noise control program (article)
- ISO 17624:2004. Acoustics - Guidelines for noise control in offices and workrooms by means of acoustical screens
- ISO 22955:2021. Acoustics - Acoustic quality of open office spaces
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.
 Torrensin, Simone; Albatici, Rossano; Aletta, Francesco; Babich, Francesco; Oberman, Tin; Stawinoga, Agnieszka Elzbieta; Kang, Jian. Indoor soundscapes at home during the COVID-19 lockdown in London - Part 11: A structural equation model for comfort, content, and well-being, Applied Acoustics 1895 (2022) 108379.
 Puglisi, Guiseppa Emma; Di Blasio, Sonja; Shtrepi, Louena; Astolfi, Arianna. Questionnaire on the Perceived Noise Annoyance, Frontiers in Built Environment, September 21, 2021.