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The Harm section of

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Page Seven of an eleven-page article:
Noise: A Health Problem
United States Environmental Protection Agency

Intrusion At Home and Work

"Interference with speech communication by noise is among the most significant adverse effects of noise on people. Free and easy speech communication is probably essential for full development of individuals and social relations, and freedom of speech is but an empty phrase if one cannot be heard or understood because of noise."
EPA Report

If there is one common denominator degrading the quality of all our lives, it may well be the almost constant intrusion of noise - in the home, at work, and in public areas. One of the most bothersome aspects of this intrusion is its interference with conversation. We may not always be aware of it, but we frequently must speak up to be heard. Others must often do the same to be understood by us.

Loss of the ability to speak at a normal level and be heard may be far more damaging than we realize. People who live in noisy places tend to adopt a lifestyle devoid of communication and social interaction They stop talking, they change the content of the conversation, they talk only when absolutely necessary, and they frequently must repeat themselves. These reactions are probably familiar to all of us.

Interference with indoor conversation represents only a small part of the intrusion problem. Outdoors, the combination of continuous daytime noise caused by street traffic, construction equipment, and aircraft interrupts speech and can discourage conversation there as well. For millions of Americans residing in noisy urban areas, the use of outdoor areas for relaxed conversation is virtually impossible.

Noise not only makes conversation difficult - indoors or out- it also seems to hinder work efficiency. In general, noise is more likely to reduce the accuracy of work rather than the total quantity. And it takes agreater toll on complex compared to simpler tasks. When noise is particularly loud or unpredictable, errors in people's observation tend to increase, perception of time may be distorted, and greater effort is required to remain alert. Loud noise also can increase the variability of work, leading to breaks in concentration sometimes followed by changes in work rate.

Even when noise does not interfere with the work at hand, work quality may suffer after the noise stops. Studies and reports from individuals also suggest that people who work in the midst of high noise levels during the day are more, rather than less, susceptible to frustration and aggravation after work. Relaxing at home after a noisy workday may not be an easy thing to do. When the home is noisy itself, the tired and irritated worker may never be able to work out the day's accumulated stress during the course of the evening.

Noise in industrial settings may have the most pronounced effects on human performance and employee health. A coal industry study indicated that intermittent noise conditions during mining have a great likelihood for causing distraction leading to poorer work. Other studies have confirmed additional effects of noise exposure, including exhaustion, absentmindedness, mental strain, and absenteeism--all of which affect worker efficiency. In the words of Leonard Woodcock, former president of the United Auto Workers, "They (auto workers) find themselves unusually fatigued at the end of the day compared to their fellow workers who are not exposed to much noise. They complain of headaches and inability to sleep and they suffer from anxiety. . . Our members tell us that the continuous exposure to high levels of noise makes them tense, irritable, and upset."

Noise interferes with conversation and social interaction

Noise hampers work efficiency

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This page from the USEPA Report is part of Section Seven:
The Harm section of