Long-term exposure to construction noise and vibration can result in a number of effects on human health. Let’s learn more about these effects with the article below.

1. Physical health effects of noise

There is a wide range of health conditions associated with noise, each varying in severity and cause but most of which are easily avoidable. These conditions range from tinnitus (which can be caused by long-term exposure to excessive noise levels) to conditions like acoustic shock (caused by severe one-off instances of extremely loud noise).

The term “noise-induced hearing loss” (NIHL) describes situations in which exposure to loud noises results in hearing loss. Our ears’ inner workings are extremely fragile and sensitive, and if not handled correctly, they are prone to harm. All sound is the result of air vibrations that are picked up by the microscopic hairs in our ear canal and carried to our inner ear.

Tinnitus and hyperacusis, which take longer to develop and are brought on by continuous and extended exposure to excessive noise levels, are a real and present concern for people who work in workplaces where loud gear is employed. However, it harms more than just our hearing. There is a substantial amount of evidence linking hearing loss to other physical health issues like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and heart attack.

Exposure to extreme noise levels is harmful to our physical well being. Noise, though, can also harm our mental health.

>> Read more: Occupational Diseases in Construction Industry

2. Noise and mental health

The last few years have seen a significant increase in mental health awareness. As a result, a lot of research has been done that shows a connection between exposure to too much noise and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. A rising body of research also suggests a connection between hearing loss and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a 2009 study, for persons under the age of 70, a human’s risk of getting poor mental health rose by 5% for each small decline in hearing. According to research published in 2019 for older persons, the proportion rose to about one in five.

Ailments of the mental and physical health are worrisome, especially when you realize that their root cause may be entirely preventable. The likelihood of acquiring the conditions we’ve discussed is significantly decreased if employers abide by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations and take the required action to control and reduce noise levels in the workplace.

construction noise and vibration
Working with noise in construction

3. Physical health effects of vibration

Construction activities which may result in intermittent noise and vibration include:

  • rock breaking – excavators with hammer attachments used to break up rock and concrete to enable excavation
  • piling – boring steel and concrete support structures below ground to support retaining walls and deep excavations, such as the tunnel shaft
  • vibratory rolling – used to compact fill material in order to reach required compaction levels, used during installation of piling pads and during road reinstatement as required
  • the use of road saws, chainsaws and demolition saws during works
  • the use of air compressors, mobile plant, generators and light towers
  • service location – non-destructive digging trucks.

Numerous health concerns are connected to the work of arborists and tree surgeons. We’ve already highlighted the risks associated with prolonged exposure to noise, but vibration also poses risks, particularly hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

The disorder known as HAVS is typically brought on by high levels of vibration from machinery and hand-held power tools used at work. HAVS is a painful, incapacitating, and irreversible condition that affects blood vessels, nerves, and joints. Over time, this can make it difficult for people to do daily activities as usual. In severe cases of HAVS, it results in permanent disability and, in some instances, necessitates amputation of the affected parts. Your hand, wrist, arm, and all the components that make up these parts can be affected by HAVS. It often happens over time, getting worse the longer and more consistently exposed you are.

HAVS also covers additional conditions induced by excessive vibration levels, such as Reynaud’s syndrome/vibration white finger. Reynaud’s syndrome, sometimes known as vibration white finger, is a disorder in which the extremities of the fingers turn white and, in some cases, lose sensation. It may result from the use of vibrating power tools, which harms blood vessels and nerves and reduces blood flow, tactile sensitivity, and finger dexterity.

Bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome are two more illnesses brought on by high vibration levels. Bursa, which grow beneath the skin and serve as cushions between tendons and bones by swelling and inflaming, are known as bursitis. Similar to repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome is brought on by compression of the median nerve as it passes through the wrist at the carpal tunnel (RSI).

Extreme circumstances can cause people’s careers to terminate, especially in the tree-trimming and arboriculture sectors. Without full hand and/or finger function, it may be impossible to use the tools required to complete the task at hand in a safe and efficient manner.

>> Read more: Problems of Health and Safety in Construction

4. Vibration and mental health

Despite the lack of evidence linking vibration exposure directly to poor mental health, dealing with the physical problems it does cause can undoubtedly generate emotions of dread, loneliness, and sadness. As mentioned, people’s capacity to do daily tasks, including employment, can be severely hindered by the physical conditions connected to excessive vibration exposure.

In 2019, there were 205 new instances of HAVS and 135 new cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the UK’s Health & Safety Executive. That is 340 additional instances of vibration at work having a harmful impact on people’s life. By taking the appropriate measures to measure and reduce excessive vibration, 340 instances may have been prevented.

People who operate in places where they are frequently exposed to noise and vibration without the proper level of protection face a serious risk to their health and general wellbeing. Fortunately, there is equipment available to measure and monitor noise and vibration levels, as well as a number of rules that firms must adhere to to guarantee that their employees are completely safeguarded.

noise and vibration
Construction jobs may lead to vibration effects on your health

5. How to control noise and vibration

5.1. Reduced noise effects

There are various strategies for minimizing noise and exposure to noise; frequently, a mix of strategies produces the best results. Consider first how to completely stop the loud noise. If it isn’t possible, try your best to stop the noise at its source and think about restructuring the workspace and rearranging work schedules. If necessary, take steps to protect certain employees.

Use a new, quieter procedure or quieter equipment, such as: 

  • Is there another, quieter way to complete the task?
  • Can you replace it with something less noisy if that’s what’s making the noise?
  • Implement a quiet purchasing strategy for machinery and equipment.

Engineering controls are introduced:

  • Reduce drop heights and prevent metal-on-metal impacts by using line chutes with abrasion-resistant rubber.
  • Adding material will dampen vibration, which will help reduce noise from vibrating machine panels.
  • Use anti vibration mounts or flexible connections to isolate vibrating equipment or components from their surroundings.
  • Install silencers on blowing nozzles and air exhausts.

Change the routes that noise takes to reach those who are exposed:

  • Reduce the noise that machines produce into the environment or workplace, build enclosures around them.
  • Stop sound from traveling directly to you, use barriers and screens.
  • Place the sources of noise farther from the workers.

Design and set up the workplace to produce little noise:

  • Use absorptive materials inside the structure to lessen reflected sound, such as open cell foam or mineral wool
  • Keep loud procedures and equipment away from calmer places.
  • Create the process so that loud equipment is kept out of the locations where people spend the majority of their time.

Reduce the amount of time you spend in noisy environments by reducing your time there. This will cut your noise exposure by 3 dB.

5.2. Reduced vibration effects

There are methods that may be taken to minimize and/or avoid vibration in order to get the most out of your tooling and your equipment.

  • Pay attention to the cutting edge angle and use the right angle for the job. For instance, rotating to direct cutting forces away from the cutting edges at an angle close to 90° is optimum.
  • Change the cutting data as necessary. Consider changing the cutting speed, the feed rate, or the cutting depth if there is excessive vibration.
  • If possible, avoid long overhangs.
  • Choose a short nose radius and a shallower cut depth while rotating and boring to minimize cutting forces.
  • Use the best equipment and holding techniques for the task.
    1. Although they are more prone to chipping, harder grade carbide and sharper geometries will frequently reduce vibration. Chip breakage and proper cutting angles can at least partially explain this;
    2. For applications requiring long reach, use anti-vibration or “Silent Tools,” such as those provided by Sandvik Coromant.
    3. A Triumph Representative is your best resource for locating the best solutions for the task.