News & Views
4 Jan 2022

Occupational noise exposure: Supporting seafarers, fishermen and workers

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises noise pollution as not only an environmental nuisance but a health threat too. The transportation sector is the principal cause of environmental noise, but despite an abundance of studies on road, air and rail travel’s noise impact, there is relatively little research on noise pollution and maritime transportation. Here, KP Acoustics Research Labs investigates the ship noise levels research landscape.

Noise factors have become one of the most important ship design considerations. According to a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, noise prevention methods such as improved insulation of living spaces, automation of machines, soundproof monitoring rooms and diesel–electric propulsion, have significantly decreased ship noise levels over the past few decades. However, both physical and psychological risks still exist for seafarers and the quest for faster and more economical ships must be balanced with the demand for a quiet and low-vibration environment on board.

The standards

In Europe, there are two main noise control standards that relate to maritime transport — the International Maritime Organization’s code and EU Directive 2003/10/EC, relating to noise at work. The ship operator is responsible for ensuring that noise reduction and control are applied and maintained in accordance with the codes. In the UK, the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Control of Noise at Work) Regulations 2007 stipulates exposure limit values of a daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 87dB (A-weighted) and a peak sound pressure of 140 dB(C-weighted). But is fulfilling the standards enough to achieve truly safe noise levels onboard ships?

“Two characteristics are important when considering noise, the amplitude and the frequency of the sound. Noise not only possesses a hearing loss hazard, but also has a real impact on human performance, which in turn impacts the frequency of industrial accidents.”

According to a study published in Ships and Offshore Structures, 80 per cent of maritime accidents are attributed to human error. These accidents can result in casualties, extensive costs to shipping companies as well as damage to nature and marine life. Many activities in marine operations require teamwork and good communication between crew members, all of which can be affected by a noisy environment. While several studies have investigated the impact of fatigue on seafarers’ decision making, the reasons for this fatigue — one of which being environmental noise — haven’t received the same research attention.

Innovation, technology and engineering

It’s only through greater understanding of seafarers, fishmen and workers’ current environments and noise exposure levels that we can continue to develop innovative technological solutions for the maritime sector. One place we can start is by making use of real time noise monitoring onboard ships. Quicker and more accurate insight enables a swifter response to noise mitigation and environmental protection. Combined with other smart sensors and controllers, real time noise monitoring could soon be a fundamental part of automated noise control.

So, what role do you think research and technology can play in understanding and limiting seafarers’ exposure to harmful noise levels? If you would like to discuss an upcoming research project, contact KP Acoustics Research Labs today.

Call KP Acoustics +44(0)208 222 8778 to discuss you application needs.

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