Sound vs. Noise and When is Lab Safety Impacted?

Sounds are everywhere. Every environment on Earth has them. Some are natural, such as birds chirping or cicadas droning. Others are generated by the devices we humans have created. Both types of sounds, regardless of what causes them, can become an annoyance or even a danger depending on the circumstances.

That’s why sound—and particularly noise— represents a lab safety challenge and why we have carefully crafted our IonBench dedicated lab furniture to address noise safety concerns.

The Difference Between Sound and Noise

While you might not think of it in this manner, there is a simple way to distinguish between noise and sound: Noise is sound that you don’t wish to hear. To put it another way, when you have decided a sound is an annoyance, you should now classify it as noise.

Take, for example, jazz music being played in a lab. To some, it may be a beautiful sound. To others, who might need silence in order to focus on a demanding task or analysis, it might be classified as distracting noise. For still others, who might have relegated the sound of the music to background status, a sudden change in volume could result in startled surprise, perhaps resulting in a jerk of the hand or the head. In barely any time at all, that innocuous sound could have become noise that precipitates a lab safety incident.

How Noise Safety Definitions Vary

With so many subjective factors involved, it’s no surprise that definitions of what constitutes noise can vary. Individuals differ in their internal—often subconscious—understanding of what makes sound become noise. This can cause conflict in a lab. When one person’s sound is another person’s noise, noise safety discussions can become increasingly heated (potentially becoming noise safety hazards in and of themselves).

Consequently, it’s important to create a culture surrounding sound and noise that allows for individual differences. Attaching different definitions to elements of sound can help those discussions find common ground.

The 3 Physical Characteristics of Sound

There are three physical characteristics of sound that can be used to develop practical parameters for the discussion of noise safety:

Intensity: The magnitude of a sound, measured in decibels (dBA), delineates intensity.

Frequency: Sound frequency is more commonly referred to as tone or pitch and is measured in hertz. High-frequency sounds are often considered more annoying, while low-frequency sounds are perceived as being louder.

Temporality: Sounds vary in terms of fluctuation, continuity, and constancy or intermittence. A sound that varies in its temporal pattern is usually perceived as louder, because it has surprised the listener (as in the change of volume example noted earlier).

Addressing Lab Safety with Dedicated Lab Furniture

In many environments, various sounds can be used to drown out other sounds (such as when lab technicians use music to disguise the sound—experienced as noise—of mass spectrometry vacuum pumps or fume hoods). While this can be effective for some people, it creates potential lab safety issues when the total volume of noise increases beyond an acceptable or tolerable level for others.

Addressing such noise safety concerns is one of the reasons we created our IonBench MS, which comes with vacuum pump enclosures that guarantee a 15 dBA reduction in perceived noise. To learn more about this dedicated lab furniture and our commitment to noise safety in the lab, please contact Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 888-669-1233.