Ambient Noise

Last updated: April 7, 2024

What Does Ambient Noise Mean?

Ambient noise refers to all noise present in a given environment, with the exclusion of the primary sound that an individual is paying attention to or producing.

Ambient noise is also known as background noise.

Safeopedia Explains Ambient Noise

The strength of ambient noise levels in a given environment can have significant health and safety implications. In the United States, workers are protected from exposure to damaging levels of ambient noise by OSHA’s noise exposure limits. These include a maximum permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 85 decibels (dB) per eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA) and a maximum exposure of 115 dB per 15-minute period.

Other occupational safety agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration, also prescribe noise exposure standards. The 85 dB limit is the standard occupational limit and is based on guidance provided by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

Risks Associated with Ambient Noise

While low levels of ambient noise can easily be tolerated, any noise at a sufficiently high volume can have adverse effects on anyone exposed to it, even if they are not directly paying attention to it.

Exposure to high noise levels, especially for a prolonged period of time, can result in gradual hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and irreversible.

Studies have also linked high noise levels to increased rates of workplace incidents. This is partly due to impaired concentration, increased fatigue, and other symptoms interfering with the employees’ ability to work safely and recognize hazards in the work environment. High levels of ambient noise also make it difficult for employees to hear alarms, shouts from other workers, and other warning sounds that would alert them to an impending risk.

Protection from Ambient Noise

Workers in noisy environments should be equipped with adequate hearing protection in the form of earplugs or earmuffs. These will have a noise reduction rating (NRR) indicating how much protection they afford the user when worn correctly.

Hearing protection can introduce new hazards, however. The less a worker is able to hear the sounds around them, the more likely they are to miss crucial information and signals about potential hazards and dangers in their immediate environment. This issue can be corrected by using earmuffs with built-in communication radios.

Ready to learn more? Check out our free webinar on Hearing and Eye Protection Solutions for Industrial Manufacturing!

Sign up to the Safeopedia Newsletter to get more great safety info delivered right to your inbox!



background noise

Share This Term

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • X

Related Reading

Trending Articles

Go back to top