Researchers are now saying that the most common occupational health issue in the US is noise-induced hearing loss. Around 22 million workers in the US are exposed to hazardous levels of noise in the workplace. The impact stretches far beyond individual personnel, however, as it’s estimated that companies have to spend $242 million every year in compensation for disability related to hearing loss. That’s $242 million that isn’t available to help businesses meet their goals, grow the economy, or make a difference in the world.
The Mechanics of Hearing Loss
You’re probably aware that hearing actually occurs in the ear through tiny auditory sensory cells in the cochlea. These hair cells cannot regenerate once they are destroyed, which means that hearing loss in humans and other mammals is permanent. Hearing loss also comes from a variety of sources, including the “planes, trains and automobiles” that a commuter encounters, and the “social noise” that comes from our car stereos and mp3 players, as well as the machines making noise within the workplace itself.
The Health Impact of Noise and Lab Safety
But noise is about more than hearing loss. Noise leads to a number of important ancillary issues. We’ve written before about how noise can cause distraction and the inability to communicate within a lab setting. This leads to lab safety issues that range from miscommunication between researchers to the inability to hear the popping and cracking noises that presage lab accidents.
The health effects of noise should be of concern to everyone who works in a noisy lab around the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates for example, that in affluent western European countries every year, at least one million healthy life-years become disability-years due to environmental noise. That’s a stunning loss in productivity and quality of life, as well as a major indicator of the importance of issues like lab safety.
Cardiovascular Disease is Related to Noise Exposure
What are the disabilities that are caused by noise? In addition to the mechanical loss of auditory hearing cells, long-term exposure to high noise levels in the work environment (such as a lab) leads to hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Exposure to noise increases both diastolic and systolic blood pressure, increases heart rate, and triggers stress hormones to be released into the bloodstream.
It doesn’t take much to trigger these effects, either. Research studies indicate that the risk of hypertension and even heart attacks increases from 7-10% for every 10 decibels of additional noise level.
Effective Cooperation and Learning are Obstructed by Noise Exposure
The perceived disturbance caused by noise in the workplace has effects as well. If employees are feeling distracted and annoyed by the sounds around them, they will have a more difficult time communicating with each other, possibly leading to the expression of that annoyance with colleagues. When this happens, research projects are hindered, and mistakes can be made because unhappy researchers are less likely to communicate well with each other.
It doesn’t take much noise to cause such problems. The WHO’s Community Noise Guidelines say that teaching cannot effectively take place with a background noise pressure level of 35 decibels. Teaching moments occur regularly in research lab settings, meaning that, in order for lab assistants to effectively learn and lab safety to be ensured, noise levels have to remain at low levels.
Addressing Noise Issues in the Lab with Dedicated Lab Furniture
Clearly it’s important that labs address noise issues. To keep staff healthy, at work (as opposed to being on disability), and communicating and learning effectively, noise levels must be kept low in the lab. This is where dedicated lab furniture is so important. Our IonBench MS is built to contain the noise levels generated by mass spectrometers within our specially designed vacuum pump enclosure. With a guaranteed reduction of 15 decibels (which means a decrease in health risks of 10-15%), your lab will be much quieter, and lab safety will be much less of an issue.