Is Workplace Noise Really a Lab Safety Risk?

workplace-noise-lab-safety-riskThe world is getting louder. Whether it’s mega-concerts or manufacturing, personal music devices or honking horns in traffic jams, noise surrounds us each day, whether at work or at play. It’s so common, it may seem unimportant. In fact, the more we become accustomed to the noises around us, the more we tune them out.

In the laboratory and other workplaces, this becomes a serious safety issue. If you get used to ignoring the sounds around you, what are the chances you’ll also, inadvertently, learn to tune out important sounds that could compromise your safety?

This is one way that noise becomes an important lab safety issue. Workplace noise isn’t just an issue if it’s louder than the warning sounds or conversations you need to hear. It’s also an issue if it prevents your brain from registering the noises you need to hear.

Workplace Noise Stats

The CDC has been collecting data on workplace and lab safety for years. Their data shows that over four million people must function every day in workplace environments that include excessive noise. Ten million citizens in the US suffer from noise-related hearing loss and every year, 22 million workers experience potentially damaging noise in the workplace. That’s a lot of people who are at risk.

The stats for actual hearing damage are also daunting. In 2007, there were 23,000 cases where workplace noise caused hearing impairment in workers. Fourteen percent of occupational illnesses that year were related to hearing loss. These statistics don’t even factor in the recreational noise exposure from concerts and mp3 players!

Correlating Cause and Effect

Of course, this overlap between noise exposures on and off the job is part of what makes it difficult to accurately track noise-related workplace incidents and accidents. However, while it’s difficult to draw absolute cause-and-effect relationships, a recent Canadian study did look a large amount of work-related accident cases to find any connections.

The researcher reviewed the records of fifty thousand plus male workers over a five-year period, in data from the Quebec National Institute of Public Health and the Quebec Workers’ Compensation Board. They discovered correlations between workplace and lab safety issues related to both high noise and hearing loss, some bad enough to require hospitalization of the worker.

The researchers also concluded that 12% of workplace accidents could be attributed to a combination of excessive noise exposure and hearing loss. While this might not seem like a lot, in 2014 there were 1,157,410 days lost from work due to accidents on the job in the US; 12% of that is almost 139,000 missed days of productivity because of noise-related workplace incidents.

So do we have your attention? The US is also doing similar research under the collaborative National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) which was established in 1996. They have made a top priority of studying the diminished ability of workers in noisy workplace environments to communicate with each other and monitor sounds in the workplace.

Reducing Risks with Workplace Health and Lab Safety Options

There are two basic approaches to take in reducing the risk of workplace incidents and accidents related to noise. The first is to address noise within the workplace; the second is to assist workers who have already experienced significant hearing loss.

The first is certainly where we have been putting our efforts. Our contribution to lab safety comes in the form of our dedicated lab furniture, which takes some of the noisiest machines in the lab—MS roughing pumps—and safely isolates them within specifically designed enclosures that decrease their noise level by 75%. Using oil- and fire-resistant foam, we dampen the noise by 15 dBA, making it easier for lab workers to communicate with each other and hear critical noises of experiments that might be about to go rogue. As a result, every lab with an MS housed in one of our IonBench lab benches is a safer place to work.

To learn more about the IonBench MS, contact us today or fill out this form to request a quote and further information.