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Workplace noise causes widespread discomfort

Too much noise at the workplace is unhealthy, say experts


One in five people in Switzerland is disturbed by excessive noise levels at work, which can lead to stress, underperformance and accidents, say experts.

The Swiss Accident Insurance Fund (Suva) said on Tuesday that every year it encountered at least 600 serious cases of damaged hearing due to workplace noise.

This makes deafness one of the most common work-based illnesses in the country. In total it costs the insurance industry around SFr8 million ($6.2 million) a year, Suva said in a statement.

The communiqué coincided with the tenth Swiss Conference for Occupational Safety in Lucerne, which this year is devoted to the subject of noise at work. More than 180 health and safety experts from Switzerland and abroad took part.

Suva said that around 200,000 people – from forest workers to orchestra musicians – were affected by noise in Switzerland.

Around two per cent of these people have hearing difficulties as a result, with 600 people seriously affected.

Stress factor

Noise is also a stress factor for employees, which can lead to reduced performance at work or even accidents. Even whispered conversations and low music levels can distract office colleagues, said experts at the conference.

Brigitta Danuser from the Lausanne-based Institute of Occupational Health said that tasks involving the short-term memory were particularly affected.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) representative Sylvie Praplan added that high volume levels were often very disturbing for pregnant women.

Suva, which has been analysing noise levels at work since 1956, said that it was up to employers to provide adequate protection for their workers.

It has been working to counter the effects of noise since the 1970s, with the aim of ensuring that workers exposed to high volume levels would have adequate hearing after their retirement, said Suva's Laszlo Matéfi.

These measures seemed to be bearing fruit, with Suva tests revealing that only one in ten noise-affected workers showed signs of damaged hearing. Thirty years ago the figure was one in three.

Suva noted that, in general, machines had become less noisy and sound protection more widespread. But it added that regulations concerning noise protection needed to be reinforced.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Suva has reported 600 cases of seriously damaged hearing due to noise at the workplace.
In Switzerland around 200,000 people are exposed to excessive sound levels.
Suva has been collecting data on workplace noise since 1956.
Deafness is now considered the third most common work-based illness, costing SFr8 million a year.

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