Noise is also an issue in the lab. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), millions of workers are exposed every year to hazardous noise levels in labs and other workplaces. Professional organizations are also taking note. For example, the College of American Pathologists now includes a laboratory noise evaluation in its accreditation program’s general checklist. Furthermore, workers themselves are listing hearing loss as one of their major concerns. This means that principal investigators and lab administrators cannot afford to ignore this critical lab safety issue.
Noise Concerns for Lab Safety
While very few laboratories have noise levels that can permanently damage hearing (90db and above), it’s still important to consider the effect that noise has on health in general.
A number of studies conducted in occupational settings show that workers exposed to high levels of industrial noise over several years or more have increased risk for hypertension, compared to workers in control areas. The World Health Organization also published several reports in the late 1990’s detailing the many effects of noise, other than hearing loss. “Among the cognitive effects, reading, attention, problem solving and memory are most strongly affected by noise.”
Consider that many cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago, San Diego and Seattle, have outside noise control by-laws against noise exceeding 60-70 decibels. Yet it’s not unheard of for noise in mass spectrometer laboratories to exceed 70 decibels.
What Are the Problem Players in the Lab?
So how can a lab get so noisy? When you stop and think about it, there are an amazing number of machines making noise in your lab. The obvious culprits include the research equipment: mass spectrometers, chemistry analyzers, cell washers, tissue homogenizers, stirrer motors … the list goes on. Then there is the required lab safety equipment, such as fume hoods and biosafety cabinets. And don’t forget storage units like cryostats, refrigerators, freezers, and refrigerated centrifuges — each has its own fans and compressors contributing to the noise level.
It’s the accumulated effect of all these machines that causes the problem. Just one high-speed refrigerated centrifuge contributes up to 65 decibels of noise, while the mass spec vacuum pumps contribute 70 decibels, and even more when they start up. This means that just these two machines alone can already create a lab safety issue.
The Harmful Effects of Noise
The harmful effects of excessive noise in laboratories are well documented. There is a real safety issue when lab techs and researchers cannot hear each other, or must shout to be heard over the noise. The effects on the ear caused by prolonged exposure to high noise levels include hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ear). However, the effects on staff members go far beyond that. Stress and anxiety can also result from long-term exposure to excessive noise. This can lead to further systemic issues, including high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems.
These harmful effects frequently lead to missed work time and lower productivity, which explains why noise isn’t just a lab safety issue, but also directly relates to the efficiency and productivity of research laboratories.
Solutions to the Noise Problem
There are a handful of ways to address the noise issue. Moving storage units out of the lab itself and into adjacent, well-insulated storage rooms can make a big difference. Also, adding acoustical tiles to the walls and ceiling will help absorb some of the noise from machines that must remain in the lab.
Another effective solution is to isolate those machines within noise-controlling dedicated lab furniture. Our IonBench MS does just that, decreasing vacuum pump noise by 15 decibels so that staff can safely work around a mass spec without damaging hearing loss.
Make 2015 a year you focus on safety in your own lab — contact us today to learn more about how dedicated lab furniture, including the IonBench MS, can help.