Monthly Archives: September 2015

Noise Reduction Facts You Need to Know for Better Lab Safety

lab-safety-noise-reduction-tipsMost people find it hard to concentrate in the presence of loud noises. While a soft “white noise” can be soothing and even help people concentrate, loud noises have the opposite effect.

This is why we continually focus on the importance of keeping noise to a minimum in the lab. Previously we’ve discussed the science behind hearing and the ways noise is measured. Now let’s look at some facts about addressing loud noises, and the lab safety issues associated with each.

Yes, Noise Causes Lab Safety Issues

There are a number of factors that can compromise lab safety, and noise is definitely one of them. In the same way that inadequate lighting or ventilation can contribute to stress and accidents in the lab, so can excessive noise, especially since there is no way to escape the noise and still get your work done.

Research also shows that individuals respond in different ways to varying tonal qualities, which means a noise that may not bother one person can be very distracting to another, inhibiting his or her ability to focus on the task at hand—and if you can’t focus, you’re more likely to make mistakes that lead to lab accidents.

Music Is Not a Solution

Since just about every staff member has a smartphone these days, it would seem an easy fix to simply suggest that lab workers listen to music, or perhaps a “white noise” recording of rain or the seashore, to block out loud lab noises.

The problem with this solution is that in order to hear that music or white noise in a loud workplace, it has to be cranked up to a level of 10-15 dBA over the background noise. In addition to potentially causing staffers hearing damage, this becomes a lab safety issue, since it’s then harder to hear colleagues speaking or respond to dangerous sounds in the lab, such as the pop of something catching fire.

Earplugs Are Not a Solution

If music is not a good lab safety idea, what about earplugs? While these might decrease the volume of sound reaching the wearer’s ears, they bring with them their own set of lab safety problems.

As with music, it becomes difficult for the staffer to hear other sounds in the lab. Earplugs also do not fit every type of ear, and may even cause infections, especially if not regularly replaced (if disposable) or cleaned (if non-disposable). Also, earplugs must be carefully stored and cared for so that they maintain their noise-suppression capabilities.

The Solution Is to Treat Noise at Its Source

The major issue with all of these solutions is that they address loud noises at the receiving end, rather than the source.

Our IonBench integrated noise reduction enclosure tackles noise at the mass spec itself, rather than at the researcher’s ear. By enclosing MS vacuum pumps within the base of our dedicated lab furniture, we decrease the vacuum pump noise by 15 dBA—the same differential that’s needed for music to overcome loud noises in your lab.

This contributes to lab safety on many levels. There’s no need to blast your ears with noise or purchase (and then discard) hundreds of disposable earplugs, and your research lab is quiet enough that people can concentrate on their work and hear each other’s conversations—or emergency warnings—without any difficulty.

To learn more about the lab safety advantages of the IonBench, contact us today.

Unpacking the Decibel Scale for Lab Safety

lab-safety-decibel-scaleWe’ve talked before about the importance of controlling noise levels in the lab. Being able to communicate clearly and effectively is critical for lab safety, and being unable to hear another’s voice or distinguish what they are saying is a true safety hazard.

There is more to this issue than the distraction of noise, however. To understand how sound can be dangerous, it’s important to understand the two important characteristics behind noise: frequency and volume.

Frequency

As we all learned in high school or college, sound is created by a varying pressure wave that travels through a medium—most commonly air. As that pressure wave travels, it changes atmospheric pressure in a periodic rhythm. The frequency of sound is defined by the number of pressure variations it causes. It is measured by the hertz, a unit of frequency equal to one cycle per second.

From a perception standpoint, our brain translates higher-frequency sounds as having a higher pitch. This is why, say, the piccolo sounds higher and chirpier to us than the bone-resonating bass drum when we hear a marching band play.

Volume

The second property of noise is its loudness. A louder noise has a larger pressure variation than a weaker one. The variations in pressure are measured in pascals. However, the human ear can hear things much softer than a single pascal, so measurements of softer sounds are often given in units of micropascals.

From a perception standpoint again, that marching band will sound louder as it’s coming toward you in part because the atmospheric pressure waves of frequency are being pushed toward you as the band gets closer. As it moves away, some of the brass instruments are pointing away from you, which decreases the volume as atmospheric pressure is pushed away.

Decibels and A-Weightings

Because the human ear can detect quite a wide range of sound loudness, the logarithmic decibel scale was developed to more easily express a wide range of volume. For example, a full symphony orchestra can have a loudness rating of 2,000,000 micropascals, while the softest sound we can detect is just 20.

By using a base 10 and defining that 20 micropascals as 0 decibels, we can more easily approximate the effect of relative loudness. Furthermore, the ear responds to logarithmic changes in levels naturally corresponding with the decibel scale.

On the frequency side, the human ear can hear sounds ranging from 20 to 20,000 hertz. To again make these numbers more comprehensible, the audible frequency range has been divided into 8 octaves (a musical term). These octaves are further divided into thirds, giving us 24 one-third-octave bands for categorizing the frequency of sounds.

Since the ear also does not correlate frequencies linearly, these bands have been given A-weightings, which reduce the impact of the highest- and lowest-pressure bands. This corresponds to the actual impact on the human ear, which is most sensitive to frequencies from 2,500 to 3,000 hertz.

Sound, Noise, and Lab Safety

When assessing the impact of specific noises in a lab, all these factors are usually measured in terms of dBA, or an A-weighted decibel reading.

Of course, a single sound seldom occurs all alone; We usually hear multiple sounds all at once, such as a conversation in the lab, running water in a sink, the fume hood in use, and the mass spectrometer vacuum pumps churning away. Together these can add up to quite a lot of pressure on the eardrums, not to mention the brain that is tasked with separating and classifying each type of sound.

Thanks to measurements like dBA, researchers are able to make more informed decisions when determining whether a piece of dedicated lab furniture will contribute to a safer lab environment. For example, our IonBench comes with a guaranteed MS vacuum pump noise suppression of 15 dBA, or 75%, which would significantly improve your ability to hear the other important sounds in your lab.

Clearly, reducing noise in the laboratory should be a priority to ensure a safe, efficient work environment. To learn more about how our dedicated lab furniture can contribute to safety in your own laboratory, contact us today.

Lab Safety Tips Other than Dedicated Lab Furniture: The Chemical Hood

lab-safety-lab-benches-chemical-hoodIf you read our blog, you probably know we take lab safety seriously at QuietBench. We created our dedicated lab furniture to address important safety concerns in the lab, including noise levels, overheating concerns, and even the possibility that your HPLC could topple over if the lab bench it’s sitting on is bumped too hard.

Lab benches aren’t the only safety devices in a laboratory however, so from time to time we like to focus on safety tips for other common items found in your labs. While these don’t directly impact our laboratory furniture, we want to keep safety in the forefront of the minds of all our readers.

Lab Safety Tips for Chemical Hoods

This time, we are taking a close look at chemical, or “fume,” hoods from a lab safety standpoint.

As the primary control devices for protecting lab techs who work with toxic and flammable chemicals, these hoods are present in many labs. And as with many other devices that we use on a regular basis, they can be taken for granted and not treated like the critical protective devices they are.

Before You Begin

Before anyone in your lab uses your chemical hood, make sure that they’ve been properly trained to operate the device. Many lab accidents are the result of incomplete training, erroneous understanding, or disregard of the guidelines for operating such safety devices.

It’s also important not to presume that experienced techs who are new to your lab understand how your fume hood works. Every device is different, and every tech and researcher should be properly trained.

Equally important to proper training is understanding the chemicals with which you will be working. Material safety data sheets exist for a reason; use them, especially if you haven’t handled a particular chemical for a while.

Finally, make sure that your chemical hood is turned on, that air is flowing within the proper range, and that the sash is open to the proper operating level.

Chemical Hood Dos

When you begin work with your chemical hood, there are a number of things you need to be aware of. Do always wear eye protection. Make sure that nothing blocks airflow, both within the hood and through the baffle exhaust slots. Do keep all materials at least 6 inches beyond the sash opening, and elevate large equipment at least 2 inches off the hood’s interior work surface.

If you’re working with particularly hazardous materials, do also take the time to review your lab’s emergency evacuation plan. While the fume hood is an excellent lab safety device, unexpected situations, such as a power failure, can turn a normal day at the lab into a true emergency.

Chemical Hood Don’ts

One big lab safety don’t with a fume hood is to let your head get inside the plane of the hood opening. If your device has a vertical rising sash, keep it below your face to minimize the possibility of getting too close. If your hood has a horizontal sliding sash, keep it in front of you and work around the sides.

You also don’t want to use any fume hood that is not functioning properly. Don’t just unplug it and walk away, either. Take the time to tag it, take it out of service, and begin the repair procedure right away. Chemical hoods are vital in so many research labs that hood downtime can have a major impact on project workflow.

Finally, don’t treat your fume hood as storage space. Never store chemicals in the hood; everything should always be locked away in dedicated lab furniture designed to keep it stored safely and securely until it is needed again.

To learn more about chemical hood safety, consult your hood manufacturer’s website or safefumehood.com. To learn more about other types of dedicated lab furniture, contact us today.