Speech can be a source of disturbance at work
The new Swedish Work Environment Authority’s Statute Book on Noise (AFS Buller, 2005:16) has recently been published, and will be valid starting 1st July 2005.
The Statute Book aims at supporting the new EU legislation on noise exposure of workers (2003/10/EG).
One of the main new items is that disturbing speech from others can be a problem.
The issue regards premises like open plan offices or any other kind of large open workspaces. In particular, it applies to people sitting close to each other, without having permanent benefit of hearing each other. If no adjacent room for concentrated task is at hand, there is a risk that employees are trying to perform tasks which might be disturbed by speech from surrounding workstations. As known from previous research, the level of disturbance will depend on the task at hand. “The more complex task, such as tasks involving the processing of speech or written information, the more sensitive” it says.
Further, the new guidelines consider that noise from speech is generally perceived as more disturbing since it varies in such a way that it is not predictable or controllable for the person exposed. Unwanted speech is disturbing, independently of the level; as soon as it can be perceived as speech, it will be disturbing.
AFS 2005:16 comprises two parts:
Statute Book on Noise itself, which is mandatory
General recommendations for the application of the Satute Book
Whole document available in Swedish (so far) at: