Lab Safety: How to Reduce Equipment Noise

lab-safety-noise-reductionIn a perfect world, professional laboratories would be more like the ones on TV shows like “CSI.” Large, quiet spaces with one or two workers calmly and quietly going about their work process. In the real world, those same workers are more likely heading home at the end of the day with a splitting headache from all the noise and activity they deal with on a daily basis. And those headaches could be a warning sign their work lab isn’t addressing one of the key factors of lab safety – noise.

How to tell if your lab is too noisy

So what is “too noisy” from a practical standpoint? When it comes to lab safety, if staff members are wearing ear protection, or noise-canceling headphones, that’s a good indicator that your lab is too noisy. If your voice is hoarse from yelling, your lab is too noisy. If people are taking time off from work because of hearing or voice issues, chances are your lab is too noisy. If mistakes are being made because people can’t hear each other, then your lab is definitely too noisy.

What are the noise recommendations to maintain lab safety?

So what is “too noisy” from a regulatory standpoint? While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does set lab safety regulations, those are only focused on decibel levels that are damaging for human hearing (85 or higher). That’s certainly a valid concern for all staff members, but it’s not the only problem. If you can’t hear a colleague speak, you’ve got a much greater chance for mistakes to be made, and speech isn’t intelligible once the noise level exceeds 55 decibels. In fact, separate from its noise regulations, OSHA does set a “recommendation” (on a fact sheet for laboratory safety noise) of 55 decibels.

Many cities and towns have also set decibel limits for machines. For example, New York City states that the noise from a commercial air conditioner must not exceed 42 decibels when measured from three feet away from the unit, and the cumulative noise of all such air conditioners on one building must not exceed 45 decibels at that three-foot distance.

What lab machines are causing lab safety problems?

New York City’s ordinance illustrates that noisy machines are a fact of life—and also a problem. The same is true in a lab: Although we need various lab machines to get our work done, a number of them can pose a lab safety hazard. These include:

  • Compressors on industrial refrigerators and freezers
  • SEM and MS vacuum pumps
  • Fume hood blowers
  • Cooling fans
  • Nitrogen generators

You can probably add a number of other machines to this list as well.

Addressing lab safety noise issues with dedicated lab furniture

So what can you do about all the noise in your lab? To start with, don’t accept it as an inevitable part of conducting lab work. When setting up a lab or installing a new machine, make sure to check the specs for noise production, then isolate those noisy devices. Sometimes you can actually put large, noisy machines into an adjacent room that will acoustically remove the excessive noise. At other times, if it’s a relatively small device, you can enclose it with foam, removing most of the noise from the surrounding workspace.

However, the most efficient and effective way to reduce noise is by installing dedicated lab furniture that is specifically designed to remove noise. For example, lab benches for mass spectrometry can reduce vacuum pump noise as much as 75 percent by enclosing vacuum pumps in cabinets lined with acoustical foam and equipped with silent cooling fans. Dedicated enclosures can also be designed to reduce the noise of other lab equipment, making your lab a more pleasant place to work and also improving your lab safety record.

If this sounds like an answer to your headaches, contact us for more information. We’re happy to answer your questions about how dedicated lab furniture can improve safety and reliability in your laboratory.