There’s an invisible danger lurking in workplaces across the country that can damage employees’ health and hamper their productivity as it attacks the brain. Believe it or not, it’s sound. Not even loud sound, like a jackhammer, but just the ordinary background noise that most any busy office tends to generate.
Occupational noise is something that few people in management ever think of, but Northwestern University Professor of Neurobiology and Communication Sciences Dr. Nina Kraus certainly has. Her book, Of Sound Mind – How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World, explains how it can take a nasty toll on your staff.
‘Safe Noise’ Isn’t Safe at All
I spoke with Professor Kraus recently. Her excitement for the magic of sound, how our brains make sense of the auditory world, her joy in what it all brings to us just permeates the book, complemented by her YouTube videos. She began our interview with this observation:
“All employers want to reduce the incidence of health problems, absenteeism, burnout, health insurance, workers’ compensation claims and insurance rates. They study ways to reduce risk, but are generally not aware of how safe noise is connected to all these things.”
I’ll bet you are wondering, “Safe noise? What’s that?”
“Most of us are aware of the risk in listening to music that’s too loud – in fact cellphones display a warning when we approach a level where we can do actual damage to our hearing,” she observes.
“Dangerous levels of noise are all around us. Just think of the poor gardener with a leaf blower or lawn mower and not wearing any kind of hearing protection. Over time, real hearing loss will likely develop.”
Injury to Your Sound Mind
“But there is another kind of noise – safe noise – that is not loud enough to physically damage your ears, won’t give you a hearing loss, per se, but will damage your hearing brain, or, as we call it, ‘your sound mind.’
“It is called ‘safe’ because it is below the noise levels the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health says requires hearing protection. These are quieter sounds, like the beeping truck outside, a refrigerator, the sounds generated in a typical office environment.”
And that’s one of the concepts Of Sound Mind develops through examples taken from everyday life. “Our hearing brain determines how we think, feel, move and interact with all of our senses. Safe noise can very much damage the hearing brain – not the ear, the brain.” Kraus underscores.
I had never heard the term before, aware of …….