The effects of noise and vibration on the human body have
been researched since the early 20th century and have long been
known to have a detrimental effect after prolonged exposure (Braugh).
The negative effects of noise can be found not only in those who work in noisy
environments, but also those who live near a place that generates a lot of
unwanted sound, such as an airport. Even pregnant women and hospital workers
must be careful about noise level and the type of damage it can do to fetuses
and newborn infants (Committee on Environmental Health). The articles I will be using for this paper
focus on general occupationally-acquired noise-induced hearing loss, general
occupational vibration hazards, and the potential risks to fetuses and infants
who are exposed to loud noise in utero and after born, with a special emphasis
on infants who are put in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and IEC
(Individualized Environmental Care) and how the noise levels present can
inhibit growth and recovery. The purpose of this paper is to provide a light
overview of these articles and to propose ways to reduce noise and vibration
The articles chosen all deal with the prevalence of
injury due to overexposure to noise and vibration and how many of the injuries
are preventable. The manufacturing and construction sectors have the highest
risk of causing hand-arm vibration (HAV), whole-body vibration (WBV) and
occupational noise-induced hearing loss (ONIHL). This is due to the amount of
machinery in use and the vibrations caused by general friction, combustion,
released air, striking, and high frequency rotations. These vibrations can be
extremely harmful to hands and arms over long periods of time and can cause
permanent nerve damage and even amputation of fingertips in severe cases (Braugh). These vibrations
also often produce loud noises which can damage parts of your inner ear, most
frequently the cochlea (Apps and Kurmis).
The fact that these injuries can take years to decades to
manifest makes the problem much worse in that once symptoms start to
consistently show, it’s often too late to reverse the damage. Because of this
and a lack of public awareness, the National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 1 million or more workers may be at risk for
HAV or WBV (Braugh).
To help try to prevent hearing loss, the Washington Industrial Safety and
Health Act (WISHA) sets a maximum exposure limit to no more than 85 dB over an
8-hour shift (Apps and Kurmis).
of manufacturing and construction, it has been found that fetuses can be
sensitive to extrauterine noises, and that babies who are placed into the NICU can
be negatively affected by the sounds that are normal to NICU operation. In four
different studies, it has been shown that there is a slightly increased risk of
shortened gestation (<37 weeks) for women who are exposed to 80 dB for an 8 hour shift. Other studies, however, have not found any correlation between loud noise and premature births. It has been consistently shown, however, that noises inside an incubator can be magnified, causing minor damage to the cochlea and negatively impacting mood and sleep, which in turn can lengthen recovery time. For example, tapping on an incubator with a finger can produce 80 dBs of noise (Committee on Environmental Health). This is equivalent to an alarm clock or very loud traffic (Apps and Kurmis). Closing the solid plastic porthole can produce 100 dB of noise (Committee on Environmental Health), which is equivalent to a jack hammer at 10m away (Apps and Kurmis). This can result in permanent hearing loss after prolonged exposure, as can dropping the head of the mattress which can produce 120 dB of sound (Committee on Environmental Health). This is the equivalent of a car horn at 1m away, or a jet taking off 60m away (Braugh). When taken away from these loud noises and put into an IEC, the infants needed significantly fewer days on a ventilator and oxygen administration. Studies have also shown that when comparing EEGs of IEC infants and full-term infants, there were no significant variations. This seems to suggest that development of infants in the IEC is more closely related to development within the womb (Committee on Environmental Health). For the issues of noise and vibration hazards, there seem to be fairly easy ways to avoid serious injury, starting with general awareness. Being aware of your exposure to vibration and noise can start to influence behavior and lead to changes in harmful habits. Employees can do things such as keep their tools clean and better maintained to reduce HAV and take more breaks, or switch out with another worker (Braugh). They can also make sure to wear the proper PPE and figure out what sound levels are dangerous to the human ear (Apps and Kurmis). Nurses in the NICU can monitor their noise levels while in the unit and it has been shown that covering the incubators with a blanket can greatly reduce the amount of noise getting in to the infants (Committee on Environmental Health). These steps could help protect millions of people every year from injuries related to noise and vibrations.