The most effective way to reduce noise levels at your work is to remove the source of the noise.

Can you remove the source of the noise?

The best way to reduce noise levels at your work is to remove the noise source. Can you:

  • Design it out?
  • Replace noisy machinery with a quiet one?
  • Change your processes to eliminate hazardous noise?

Designing for noise reduction

The amount of noise in a workplace depends on its location, design, construction and type - type (eg detached or multi-level office building) and in particular the activities or work carried out inside it, such as plant and equipment used. Noise can be a problem for workers if there isn't enough sound insulation between floors, spaces and buildings.

Structural design

Even if your business doesn’t use or handle noisy equipment or machinery, workers can be exposed to hazardous noise levels. Some common internal noise sources in an office are:

  • plumbing
  • air conditioning
  • lifts
  • common corridors
  • noisy businesses or activities in mixed use developments (for example, a bar on top of an office building)
  • vibration.

It’s a lot easier to plan for good acoustics when designing or refurbishing your work space. When designing your workplace for noise, designers should consider two types of sound:

  • Airborne sound. This is noise originating in air, for example voices, traffic and wind.
  • Impact sound. This is noise caused by impact or vibration, for example, drilling and hammering, footsteps above, or furniture being moved.

Layout of the workplace

  • Don’t put windows or doors towards sources of noise.
  • Fit fans, heat pumps, plumbing, air conditioning away from quiet work areas.
  • Keep noisy machinery away from walls and corners. There is a greater amount of noise reflected in corners.
  • If you have a multi level building or site, don’t put heavy machinery above areas you want to be quiet.
  • Separate quiet, office areas from areas where workers are using noisy equipment by using barriers.

Floors and walls

If your business uses heavy equipment, line floors with vibration isolating materials. Heavy equipment needs its own foundation, and this shouldn’t contact other parts of the building’s structure.

Don’t mount noisy equipment on large, movable partitions or walls.

Use soft carpeting on floors in open plan offices, and large rooms to absorb sound.

Insulation

Line windows, roofs, walls and doors with the fibre based insulation. If workers are continuously working in an area with noisy equipment or machinery, use appropriate ceiling and wall cladding to minimise noise exposure and absorb sound. Not all types of cladding are effective at absorbing sound. The type of cladding you need will depend on the frequency of the sound and the noise levels in your workplace.

Check windows and doors to make sure noise doesn’t escape. Double or triple glaze windows. Minimise air gaps around doors and windows.

An expert in noise is called an acoustic engineer. They can help you design around noise.

Buying quiet

Choosing to buy or hire quieter tools is one of the most cost effective ways of eliminating noise levels because it can save you the cost of implementing noise control measures afterwards. Ask your supplier for information on the likely noise levels under the environment you will use the machinery. Use this information to compare cost, technical specifications, noise levels and other safety features such as guarding between brands. Ask to trial the machine under normal working conditions to test if it is effective at reducing noise levels before you buy.

Before you buy a new machine:

  • establish an acceptable maximum noise level for your machine. This should be lower than the existing noise levels in the workplace or on site as the noise levels from the machine will increase the noise levels on site
  • think about where you will place the new machine. Will there be more than one machine in the same area? Having two or more machines close to each other will increase the overall noise levels.
  • how much you’ll be using the machine
  • how often you’ll need to replace the machine in future.

If you don’t need to replace your machine, consider choosing quieter components. For example:

  • install quieter motors
  • mount dampers in hydraulic lines
  • add ventilation ducts to stop noise being transmitted from a noisy area to quiet work areas. 

Set up a buy quiet policy

Develop a buy quiet policy as part of your overall workplace hearing protection programme, which includes processes for testing and evaluating the noise levels of the machinery. You could nominate a purchasing officer to make sure buy quiet procedures are followed when machinery needs to be replaced.

Your supplier should be able to tell you how much noise the machine generates. If the supplier can’t provide you with estimated noise level:

  • ask them for noise measurements of the same model of machine installed in similar working conditions, or
  • try other suppliers.

However, you’ll still need to get a competent person(external link) to measure the noise levels in your workplace to make sure your workers aren’t being exposed to hazardous noise levels. A competent person will assess noise exposure for the workers and the noise levels generated by a certain machines or equipment.

Quieter processes

When considering whether to buy newer equipment, take the time to review your processes. Is there a quieter way to do the same job effectively?

For example replace:

  • rivets with welding, high strength bolts or compression riveting
  • chipping with grinding
  • larger tools with high impact, with smaller ones capable of doing the same job
  • mechanical presses with hydraulic presses
  • nails or screws with liquid nails.

Use heat to decrease the amount of hammering required.

Use an electric drive of compressed air or an internal combustion engine.

Never use compressed air for blowing down dust.

Wear and tear over time can lead to increased noise levels. Regularly maintaining components such as plumbing, air conditioning and fans can help to keep your equipment working quietly for a longer period of time.