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

Danger to Life and Limb

"Inability to hear auditory warning signals or shouts of caution because of noise has also been implicated in industrial accidents."
Alexander Cohen, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Two people were killed when Senator Robert Kennedy's funeral train passed through Elizabeth, New Jersey. Because of the noise from Secret Service and news media helicopters, they did not hear the warning blasts from the train that hit them.

Although the evidence is scanty, the inability to hear warning signals because of high background noise is thought to be the cause of many accidents each year. For example, traffic accidents occur and lives are lost because drivers are unable to hear the sirens from nearby or passing emergency vehicles. One study has estimated that when a fire truck or ambulance is in the process of passing a truck, the truck driver is able to detect the siren for only a very short time - three seconds or less. The rest of the time the truck's noise drowns out the siren, and the warning is undetected.

Nowhere is the concern over preventable accidents greater than in industrial settings, where noise levels not only can interfere with concentration and can cause hearing loss, but can hinder communication between employees as well - particularly in times of emergency. A study of medical and accident records of workers in several industries found that a significantly higher number of reported accidents occurred in noisier plant areas. The Federal Railroad Administration is aware of this hazard and has identified "high noise-level conditions" as a possible contributor in 19 accidents causing deaths of 25 railroad employees, in a 22-month period.

Reports from industrial officials also indicate that the effectiveness of warning signals and shouts in noisy areas is considerably diminished and that accidents and injuries are more frequent. The effects of masking and speech interference can be dramatic, as in the case of an accident in an auto glass manufacturing plant. Noise levels were so high that a worker whose hand was caught in manufacturing equipment received no aid since no one heard the screams. As a result, the hand was lost. As additional examples, two pressroom auto workers in Ohio were permanently disabled when they failed to hear approaching panel racks or warning shouts.

Thus it is an unfortunate result of high background noise levels that people cannot respond in life and death situations when they are unable to hear approaching hazards or shouts of alarm.

Noise can obscure warning signals, causing accidents to occur

Noise can interfere with shouts for help, preventing rescue attempts

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