It All Adds Up: The Non-Auditory Effects of Lab Noise

Ear PlugNoise is a hazard in many modern work environments, and the lab is no different. A variety of issues arise when people are exposed to excess noise—and not all of them have to do with hearing loss. Lab managers need to pay attention to these noise related dangers—and learn about possible solutions, thereby increasing lab safety and disruption in the laboratory workplace.

Non-Auditory Effects of Occupational Noise

Over the years, researchers have determined that there are numerous effects that impact humans who are exposed to excess noise in the workplace. The first thing that comes to mind for many of us is hearing loss. While that’s a legitimate concern in workplaces that have very high noise levels, today we’re going to focus instead on the non-auditory effects that result from an excess of low-level noise:

Annoyance – While we understand that everyone can occasionally get upset over something, a steady diet of increased noise can make us upset over everything. This increase in annoyance can manifest in anger, exhaustion, and other stress-related symptoms.

Cardiovascular Disease – This one may surprise a lot of people, and it’s significant enough that we’ve talked about it before. Our bodies naturally respond to noise with increased blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, these responses put stress on the heart.

Cognitive Performance – One of the most troubling results from research is that exposure to excess noise has a negative impact on learning. Students exposed to excess noise do worse on cognitive tests, have more memory issues, and demonstrate poorer reading skills.

What Noise Levels Cause Lab Safety Issues?

How do you know if you need to implement noise reduction at your lab or workplace? Get out the sound meter. OSHA standards state that an average time-weighted noise level exposure over an eight-hour shift must not exceed 85 dBA. It is the accumulated effect of all noise sources which result in this noise level limit—meaning that all noise factors must be counted in the total.

With regard to laboratories, OSHA states: “The recommended upper limit for noise for speech to be intelligible is 55 dBA. If the noise level in the laboratory is too high for the staff to hear what is being said, whether in conversation or on the telephone, there is a danger of misunderstanding instructions or laboratory results.” (1)

Here are the three categories of causes that impact these noise level limits:

EquipmentJust about every piece of lab equipment generates some level of noise. In addition to mass spec vacuum pumps, we can think of fume hoods, fridges and freezers, compressors, homogenizers, stirrers, even the rock crushers in a geology lab. Together, all this equipment can really get your lab humming, making it hard to hear, hard to think, and hard to know when a situation reaches a critical lab safety threshold.

Human Activity – In addition to equipment, humans bring additional noise into the lab environment. Sometimes it’s radios and phones, which are used to drown out the other noises. Other times, it’s conversations, teaching moments, and simply the miscellaneous noises generated when humans work together in a lab environment. Each of these contribute to the noise level total.

External Environmental Sources – No lab exists in a vacuum—even if it’s working hard to create one. If your lab is in an industrial area, some noise from the industries around will seep into your facility. Vehicular traffic, the occasional siren, or even a loud thunderstorm will amp up the noise level until it becomes a lab safety issue.

Lab Noise Reduction Options

Naturally, where there is a problem, scientists work to find solutions. Some of the most effective lab noise reduction options include:

  • Sound dampening materials for walls, ceilings and floors
  • Strategic placement of noisy equipment, including into adjacent, sound-proofed rooms, if you’re in the design phase for a new or refurbished lab
  • Selecting lab equipment that’s designed to emit lower noise levels
  • Investing in dedicated lab furniture such as IonBench MS and IonBench LC
  • Isolating noisy vacuum pumps with specifically designed enclosures

The bottom line is that lab noise reduction will make for happier, calmer, safer, more productive staff and researchers. To learn more, request a quote from us today.

References:
(1) 
OSHA Fact Sheet 3463 8/2011 “Laboratory Safety Noise”