Lab Noise and Lab Safety: There’s an App for That

This blog frequently talks about the importance of managing lab noise. We’ve covered decibels and health risks associated with lab-safety accidents because too much lab noise can mask warnings and cause miscommunication at critical moments. But how do you know if your lab is too noisy?

What Is Your Experience with Lab Noise?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when wondering if noise is a problem in your lab:

  • When you leave the lab, do you sense humming or ringing in your ears?
  • Do you have to shout to be heard by a colleague who’s at the next closest workstation?
  • Do you experience temporary hearing loss when you leave the lab at the end of the day?

If you responded yes to any of these questions, then lab noise in your workplace may be a potential problem.

OSHA and NIOSH Workplace Noise Limits and Lab Safety

For all U.S. workers, OSHA has set standards and regulations for noise in the workplace. Exposure to noise should be kept below an equivalence level of 85 dBA for an entire eight-hour shift. For every sound level increase of 5 dBA over 90 dBA, the legal time limit is cut in half, which means you should only have to endure four hours in a 95-dBA work environment or two hours in a 100-dBA work environment.

Other organizations set stricter limits. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends less than fifteen minutes of exposure at the 85-dBA level per day and an exponential decrease in exposure time for every 3 dBA as opposed to 5 dBA.

If you are experiencing any of the lab-noise issues described above, you can take this to your supervisor and expect action. Ringing in the ears is unlikely to be taken as seriously as an objective measurement, but apps for that are now available.

Three Apps that Can Measure Lab Noise

While you might not have sophisticated instruments that measure noise in your lab, almost everyone has a smartphone these days. Here are three apps that measure lab-noise levels and provide a basic decibel reading, including statistics such as average-, low-, and peak-volume levels:

One thing to note is that standard smartphone microphones are not designed for precision measurements. If a basic reading concerns you, you may wish to invest in a sound-level meter to gather readings that will convince your supervisor of the seriousness of the situation. On the other hand, you can report your initial findings on your smartphone or tablet and suggest that your supervisor take it from there.

Dedicated Lab Furniture Reduces Lab Noise

One of the most efficient methods for reducing lab noise is installing dedicated lab furniture. Our IonBench MS sequesters MS roughing pumps and guarantees a 15-dBA reduction in noise levels. To learn more about IonBench, contact our dedicated lab-furniture expert. Tim Hawkins can be reached by email or at 1-888-669-1233.

How to Stay Sane in the Midst of Lab Noise

Sometimes, lab noise is unavoidable no matter how many steps you take to corral the racket, lower the volume, and soundproof with dedicated lab furniture. We’ve talked in the past about the many impacts of lab noise on lab techs, researchers, and other staff. But what can be done when lab noise isn’t dangerous, but still bothersome? Here are five suggestions about how workers can cope when lab noise levels impact productivity.

1.    Invest in Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Good noise-cancelling headphones were first developed to address the background hum associated with cars and airplanes. This means that modern noise-cancelling headphones are excellent choices for managing noise levels in your lab without also cancelling out intermittent sounds that could indicate a problem or an imminent lab accident.

Another way that headphones can assist with noise while not compromising lab safety is by using one earbud. This allows your brain to focus on the music or white noise coming through your headsets while still hearing voices of colleagues who may need your attention. (If you’re so tuned out to the lab around you that your colleague must tap you on the shoulder to get your attention, your resulting jump could become a safety incident in and of itself!)

2.    Take a Break and Step Out of the Lab Noise

Although OSHA has not addressed the issue of lunch and break periods (this belongs under labor-standards law), many organizations recognize that short breaks from work can improve concentration and productivity. With this in mind, if your lab’s noise is getting to you, step out, take a break, walk around the building (inside or out, depending on the weather), and reconnect with the world beyond your mass spec.

3.    Be Proactive about Lab Safety

Noise culprits are in every workplace. We all know who they are. They whistle while they work, they stop and chat at your workstation, they generally make themselves obvious—sometimes annoyingly so. If you know that you need to have less noise and more focus for a particular project that day, don’t be afraid to say something. “I’m slammed today, so I sure hope nothing breaks down and breaks my concentration,” you might say as you fill your cup at the water cooler or coffee maker. “Is your plate as full as mine?” In this way, you can clarify that you’re uninterruptible without calling attention to the culprit’s tendency to speak loudly, interrupt, and generally distract colleagues.

4.    Have the Talk when Necessary

If the indirect methods above don’t work, then don’t be afraid to have the noise safety conversation. It might be a Friday afternoon, and everyone around you is ramping up for the weekend and talking about their plans, but if all that lab noise creates a potential lab safety or concentration issue for you, don’t be afraid to speak up.

5.    Invest in Dedicated Lab Furniture

Investing in dedicated lab furniture that suppresses noise in your busy lab is the best way to keep lab noise below irritating or dangerous levels. Our IonBench MS completely isolates vacuum pumps, decreasing lab noise by 75%. When you invest in the right technology—even at the lab bench level—you invest in the focus and productivity of everyone who works in your lab. For more information about our dedicated lab furniture, contact Tim Hawkins today at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.

Five More Lab Bench Maintenance Tips for Your Dedicated Lab Furniture

One of our most popular posts provided some maintenance tips to extend the life of your dedicated lab furniture. Those tips have been so useful that we decided to add five more lab bench maintenance steps you can take to prolong the life of your IonBench (or any dedicated lab furniture) and the valuable mass spec that lives atop it.

1.    Replace Overheat Alarm Batteries

Our IonBench MS comes with an overheat alarm that is designed to warn you if the vacuum pump enclosures become overheated. (This is one of many reasons why it makes good sense to invest in dedicated lab furniture rather than re-purposing standard furniture to hold your mass spec.) Two AA batteries provide power to the overheat alarm. You can check the power at any time by pressing on the black button (see photo), but we recommend that these AA batteries be replaced annually.

2.    Check Air Intake for Blockage

One reason that the vacuum pump enclosure can overheat is that the air intake becomes blocked. In a crowded lab (which many are), storage space is at a premium. Staff can realize that there’s space under your dedicated lab furniture and decide to use it for storage.

However, with the IonBench MS, the enclosure’s air intake is located underneath the machine. This can mean the intake gets blocked when the area is used for storage, causing the vacuum pump enclosure to more easily overheat. (Using that space for storage can also make the lab bench more difficult and dangerous to move if a lab tech doesn’t realize that someone else used the space for storage!)

3.    Check Enclosure Door

Because it is opened and closed on a regular basis, the vacuum pump enclosure door may eventually become misaligned due to hinges loosening or someone leaning on the door as they stand up. If the door for your dedicated lab furniture is not well aligned, it will affect the bench’s ability to block vacuum pump noise, increasing the possibility of moderate noise effects such as annoyance, mishearing communications, and the potential for lab accidents.

If your IonBench MS door is no longer aligned, contact Tim Hawkins by email or at 1-888-669-1233. He can send you an easy to follow, step-by-step guide to readjusting this important piece of your lab bench’s noise suppression system.

4.    Prevent Caster Wheels from Flattening

Our dedicated lab furniture comes with solid casters that are engineered to withstand a lot of bulk. Those casters support an IonBench that weighs over 220 kg in addition to the weight of the MS and other instruments and computers it supports.

While the casters are strong, any wheel will eventually flatten if it is not moved periodically. We recommend that, when it is safe to do so, you move your dedicated lab furniture back and forth about 30 cm to redistribute the weight on those casters and keep all parts of them strong and flexible.

5.    Check Power Cable

Over time, especially if you do move your mass spec around your lab with the help of those handy caster wheels, the power cable might become frayed (see photo). Check it regularly and order a replacement if required.

We hope you find these additional lab bench maintenance tips helpful. If you have other maintenance questions, please contact Tim Hawkins for expert assistance.

Cannabis Testing: A New Field for Mass Spectrometry

We periodically highlight new types of work in mass spec technology that our dedicated lab furniture supports. In this post, we put the spotlight on a rapidly growing, yet controversial use for mass spectrometry—cannabis analysis.

Setting the Stage for Types of Testing

The piecemeal legalization of cannabis is a challenge for the states where cannabis consumption has been approved. Each state has its own laws and regulations for the medical and/or recreational use of cannabis that include several challenges. First, crop protection agents are applied to increase yields and to standardize product appearance; testing must determine contaminant levels for consumer safety. Second, various—and sometimes nonexistent—maximum-residue limits exist. Third, sample variation is enormous because cannabis is ingested by various methods—orally, topically, or inhalation.

Four Types of Mass Spectrometry Cannabis Analysis

All of these variables have led to the need for LC-MS/MS technology, which determines chemical residues and compares them to the lowest legal—or possible—limits. High-resolution mass spectrometry has proven most effectively when analyzing compounds for the following four categories.

Pesticides

Pesticide levels are regulated in some states, such as Oregon, which has issued a guide list for acceptable types and levels of pesticides in flowers and concentrates. Other regulatory agencies now follow this standard. Targeted mass spectrometry can test for levels of stipulated residues, and some manufacturers are creating plug-and-play methodologies for efficient mass-spec analysis.

Mycotoxins

Human-generated pesticides are not the only contaminants affecting cannabis. Mycotoxins (molds and fungi) readily colonize crops and survive harvest and processing. Aflatoxins are of particular concern with cannabis; mass spectrometry can detect dangerous levels of these microbial contaminants.

Potency Levels

In addition to testing the presence of contaminants, mass spectrometry is also used to determine the levels of beneficial compounds in cannabis. Using mass spec, accurate and precise data can be collected from almost a dozen different cannabinoids. The development of streamlined sample preparation and analysis protocols can accurately compare samples.

Terpene Content

In addition to assessing cannabinoids, mass spec can test levels of various terpenes—essential oils that may enhance the cannabis experience and may promote certain health benefits. While mass spectrometry cannot assess the claims of those health benefits, determining the levels of various terpenes is certainly helpful for the comparison of cannabis crops and for marketing purposes.

Supporting Your Mass Spectrometry with Dedicated Lab Furniture

As with many inventions, it’s likely the early pioneers of mass spectrometry probably had no idea how useful those mass spec machines would become. And while new uses will contribute to the development of tomorrow’s machines, you can rest assured that IonBench will be there, literally, supporting those mass spectrometers both now and in the future. Whether you’re undertaking controversial cannabis analysis or engaged in more commonplace testing, all mass specs deserve the right foundation. To learn more about our IonBench MS, contact Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.

Noise Safety and Evolutionary Change: The Impact of Noise on Animals of All Kinds

We care about noise in the lab environment as well as the broader environment, so we periodically post information we’ve gleaned about noise impacting the human animal. But in this post, our focus is the rest of the animal population. While few of them may end up in your lab, the impact of noise on wild life is illuminating, to say the least, and understanding how noise impacts all animals certainly can increase noise-safety awareness in your lab.

Noise Is Everywhere

Most of us would like to live and work in quiet places. Many of us also seek quiet places for rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, recent research on US National Parks proves that avoiding invasive, disturbing noise is increasingly impossible. While background noise in these national parks is relatively low when compared with US cities, it is disturbingly and “remarkably” high by wilderness criteria.

Furthermore, a large percentage of the noise pollution in national parks enters from outside it, which means that the National Park Service and the animals have no control over increasing noise.

The Impact of Noise on Animals

Researchers are conducting multiple studies on how noise impacts animals across the globe. Some impacts are severe and straightforward, such as powerful arrays of air guns tied to underwater military sonar and used to map the seafloor that unintentionally strand whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Other impacts are less obvious, such as robins changing the timing of their songs to catch a quieter time of day, or urban great tits changing the frequency of their calls to avoid being drowned out by lower-toned, human-generated noise.

Some animals have actually found ways to use all the noise to their advantage. Hummingbirds and house finches now select nesting sites in noisy areas near active gas wells because noise-sensitive avian predators avoid these areas. On the other hand, increased road noise disturbs prairie dogs: They spend more time keeping watch, which leaves them less time foraging food; the species’ long-term health and wellness could decline.

Noise Safety for Animals and Humans in Your Lab

While wild animals may not be residing in your lab, you do have human animals working there. The findings above demonstrate how any animal that is exposed to noise can suffer effects. This includes noise in the lab environment. As we’ve discussed before, noise safety is key to an efficient, productive lab environment. Noise can cause people to tune out or mishear critical lab-safety conversations. Noise can raise the stress level, resulting in cardiovascular disease. Noise can cause annoyance and impair cognitive performance.

This is why reducing noise should be a primary consideration in any lab. It’s also a reason why our dedicated lab furniture offers noise-reduction features. The state-of-the-art IonBench MS isolates the mass-spec vacuum pumps that can contribute so much noise to the lab environment. We keep manufacturing more dedicated lab furniture because more and more labs are prioritizing noise safety and are taking steps to ensure a quiet, safe lab environment.

To learn more about how our IonBenches can improve noise safety for the human animals in your lab, contact Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.

Lab Safety Learning: Avoiding the Rush to Judgment

The more we all learn about lab safety; the safer labs will be (and the more we can create better dedicated lab furniture). Sometimes the best lessons come from unexpected places.

In this post, we spotlight an idea we came across recently. One of thinking beyond the rules when it comes to evaluating lab safety accidents. It comes from a safety article by Dr. Ivan Pupulidy, who investigates fatal firefighting incidents for the US Forest Service. In it, Dr. Pupulidy purports that a rush to judgment can lead toward an increase in accidents rather than an increase in safety.

Reevaluating the Investigative Process

Context often provides vital clues to the genesis of an accident, but Dr. Pupulidy found that more often the investigative process focuses instead upon whether established rules and procedures have been followed. This leads investigators to oversimplify these complex contexts and often rush to judgment regarding the worker’s adherence to established rules and procedures. The focus quickly becomes whether the rules were followed, rather than why they were not.

As any good researcher knows, unexpected results point to anomalies and possible complexity within experimental parameters. Those results merit further investigation rather than a systemic assignment of judgment or blame.

Dr. Pupulidy and his colleagues learned that their assessment of systems often missed important elements of the situation by focusing exclusively on policies and regulations. Instead, over time, they learned to focus on the split-second decisions made by firefighters facing unexpected situations. When the established rules and procedures did not apply, what actions did firefighters take and why?

The Currency of Safety is Information

Over time, Dr. Pupulidy and his team began to change their definition of safety and the metrics of success. When judgment and blame are held in check, and a process of curiosity accompanies the process, investigators gained the trust of firefighters and learned much more about the contexts in which those accidents had taken place.

Eventually, they began using a new phrase: The currency of safety is information. To close the gap between work as imagined (governed by those rules and regulations) and work performed (in those split-second, crisis decisions in the field), investigators learned to understand the dynamic nature of firefighting systems.

What Does This Mean for Lab Safety?

First, it means not moving too quickly to assign blame in a lab accident. In its place, approach the investigation with curiosity. Don’t rush to evaluate whether all the rules and procedures were followed. Instead, if you discover that some were not, ask why. When staff must recognize a situation as new and make sense of unexpected information in order to devise an innovative solution, they are doing nothing less than what is required of the observant researcher in your lab.

Second, it means listening to employees who express concerns over rules and regulations. While those rules were created because of past lab safety accidents, this does not mean that every rule fits all situations. Just as not all mass spectrometers will function equally to do the same job, not every rule can fit every complex context.

As Dr. Pupulidy concludes, “an accident [is] not seen as a choice, after all who would choose to have an accident? Rather it is seen as a natural outgrowth of normal system and human variability.”

Naturally, you will want to limit those variables to the best of your capacity, which is why we suggest you invest in dedicated lab furniture. To improve lab safety and reduce accident rates with our IonBench dedicated lab furniture, contact Tim Hawkins today by email or at 1-888-669-1233.

New Mass Spectrometry Technique Connects UV Rays with Intelligence

As providers of the dedicated lab furniture that should support every mass spectrometer, we here at QuietBench like to spread the news when researchers make an innovative contribution to science. Here’s a report on a new discovery, aided by a specific mass spectrometry technique, that has increased our knowledge about human understanding.

The Role of Mass Spectrometry in a Recent Accidental Finding

Earlier this year, The Scientist reported on an unexpected discovery from a study into molecular analysis. Researchers in China were using a newly developed mass spectrometry technique to analyze single neurons, charting chemical constituents, physiological changes, and metabolism. Being able to investigate chemical changes at the cell level opens the window to observing physiological and pathological processes at levels not previously possible.

During this process, the researchers noticed the unanticipated presence of urocanic acid in the neurons. This acid absorbs ultraviolet (UV) light and may have a role in preventing UV skin damage. A literature search revealed that this molecule had not previously been detected in the central nervous system. Recognizing that they were entering uncharted territory, the researchers began to explore the possibility that UV light could boost urocanic acid levels in the brain.

Discovering How UV Light Impacts Learning and Memory

The results of their research were significant. Urocanic acid is also known to be an intermediate molecule generated in the conversion of histidine to glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter. Could urocanic acid and glutamate levels be connected?

Exposing mice to UV light, the researchers were able to confirm the connection between urocanic acid and glutamate, and also to link UV light to the increase in their presence in the brain. The researchers then were able to prove that mice exposed to increased UV light also experienced improvements in learning and memory. This skin-brain connection reveals that UV light can indeed support the human capacity to learn and understand.

Awaiting Further Developments in Research

Since mice are nocturnal and see the sun relatively rarely, further research must be done to confirm these connections and perhaps eventually apply them to humans. Meanwhile, since UV light is also still highly correlated with skin damage and cancer, this news is not an invitation for humans to stay out in the sun. It is, however, an intriguing development. Down the line, in fact, there may come a day when people can benefit from increased cognition capacity without having to expose themselves to UV rays at all.

Meanwhile, we hope that exposing you to these periodic news bulletins about the beneficial assistance of mass spectrometry in research labs is sufficient to keep you moving forward on your own research trajectories.

Your mass spec is a valuable partner in your research and deserves the very best foundation upon which to work. This is why we have created dedicated lab furniture that functions as a sturdy and silent partner in your discoveries. To learn more about how our IonBench MS can improve your workflow and hasten your own new understandings and discoveries, contact Tim Hawkins today by email at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or by phone at 1-888-669-1233.

Understanding Noise Safety: How Does Noise Damage Hearing?

The QuietBench blog often focuses on lab safety and the importance of reducing noise in your lab. But have you given any thought to exactly how noise damages your hearing? We thought it might be good to take a step back from our noise safety posts about decibels and the difference between sound and noise to talk about the mechanics of hearing and how dedicated lab furniture can help preserve it.

A Primer on Hearing and the Ear

To understand noise safety, we need to understand the ear. Like many systems in the human body, the ear is an incredibly complex and delicate instrument with multiple subsystems. To understand how these systems function, let’s follow a sound wave as it travels through the three parts of the ear.

The Outer Ear

Sound enters our body through our outer ear, which includes the pinna, which is the external part of the ear. It is shaped to collect and funnel sound waves into the narrow passage called the ear canal, which leads to the eardrum at the back of the outer ear. The ear canal and eardrum can be accessed and damaged by external forces, such as cotton swabs, but are seldom damaged by noise itself.

The Middle Ear

The eardrum vibrates as a sound wave hits it, sending vibrations into three tiny bones located in the middle portion of the ear. These bones, called the malleus, incus, and stapes, serve the function of coupling air vibrations with fluid vibrations in the cochlea, which is in the inner ear.

The Inner Ear

The inner ear is where the magic happens and where the ear is most susceptible to noise-induced damage. The cochlea has two portions, an upper and a lower, with an elastic partition, called the basilar membrane, separating the two. When the bones in the middle ear set the cochlear fluid to vibrating, a wave forms along that basilar membrane.

The basilar membrane is covered with tiny hairs, which ride that wave — much like seaweed in an ocean current. At the top of each tiny hair is a microscopic projection, called a stereocilium. When the wave moves the basilar membrane, these stereocilia bump against an overhead structure and bend. That bending action causes pore-type channels to open. Chemicals then rush into the cell at the top of the stereocilia.

That chemical reaction causes an electrical signal, which is transmitted to the brain through the auditory nerve. The brain completes the process by translating that electrical signal into a sound that the mind can recognize and interpret.

Noise Safety and the Inner Ear

Most noise-induced hearing loss is caused by the damage and death of those inner ear hair cells and stereocilia. There are exceptions, such as the bursting of the eardrum or damage to the three bones in the middle ear, which can be caused by extremely sudden and loud noises, such as explosions.

While it’s unlikely a lab will exceed the threshold of 85dB of noise per 8-hour shift that regulations have set, it’s still important to be careful. After all, when those inner ear hairs and stereocilia are damaged and die, they do not grow back. (This is one way in which we are different from birds and amphibians whose hair cells do regenerate.)

Make Lab Safety a Priority with Dedicated Lab Furniture

The need to reduce noise and protect hearing is why we promote our dedicated lab furniture as a key component in your lab safety program. Our IonBench MS decreases the impact of mass spec vacuum pump noise by 75%, saving countless inner ear hair cells from a premature death. To learn more about how our IonBenches can promote noise safety in the lab, contact Tim Hawkins today at 1-888-669-1233 or by email.

Ototoxicity: A Covert Noise-Safety Issue to Include in Lab-Safety Procedures

The human body is a wonderfully interconnected system. This can be a boon or a bane for researchers seeking to heal the body and for lab safety teams seeking to protect it. As we recently noted, lab-safety issues aren’t always obvious. One postdoctoral fellow almost lost her sight due to the covert impact of UV light. For this reason, we are focusing today on another covert noise-safety concern that has come to our attention.

Introducing Ototoxicants

We usually assume that hearing will be adversely affected by loud noises or perhaps physical damage to the ear drum or to cochlear hair cells, which receive and transmit sound. However, ototoxicants, in the form of chemical compounds, are additional threats to the ear. Exposure can occur through inhalation, skin absorption, or ingestion—none of which have any direct connection with noise or hearing.

Ototoxic chemicals travel through the bloodstream and damage the ear. Two types can impair a person’s ability to hear or hear clearly: Neurotoxicants damage the nerve fibers that support hearing and balance; and cochleotoxicants damage those cochlear hair cells, impairing the ability to hear.

Multiple substance classes contain ototoxic chemicals. These include pharmaceuticals such as furosemide and streptomycin (although toxicity at therapeutic doses is limited, certain labs may routinely handle significantly larger quantities of these substances); solvents such as toluene and ethylbenzene; asphyxiants such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide; nitriles such as acrylonitrile and cis-crotononitrile; and metals compounds that include germanium dioxide, mercury, tin, and lead.

Why Ototoxicants Are a Noise-Safety Issue

The impact of ototoxicants on the human body is not straightforward. It can act alone or in tandem with loud noise in the lab or workplace. Hearing loss can be amplified if people are exposed to ototoxins concurrently with loud noises. Furthermore, noise and ototoxins have a synergistic effect, exponentially increasing the potential damage. Impulse noise seems to particularly exacerbate the effects of ototoxicants.

No single-exposure threshold exists for ototoxicity. Damage rates vary for each particular chemical based on compound family; chemical properties; exposure route, concentration and duration; noise synergy; and individual body tolerances and risk factors, including age.

Ototoxicant Hearing Effects and Lab Safety

Ototoxicants affect not only the ears but also the central portions of the auditory system, including the brain, which varies the effects of ototoxicants. In addition to the loss of hearing, people affected may lose the ability to hear clearly and distinguish sounds. For example, they may not be able to determine the direction from which a sound is coming. They may lose the ability to sense a time gap between sounds or the ability to differentiate sounds with a similar frequency.

Such speech-discrimination dysfunctions can become a major lab-safety issue. If someone does not correctly sense the direction of a sound, they may run toward a dangerous situation instead of away from it. The inability to hear clearly could result in misunderstood directions. The inability to hear coworkers’ warnings could lead to a lab accident.

What does all this mean for lab-safety protocols? OSHA recommends audiometric tests to determine loss of hearing acuity or comprehension. However, they note that such tests will not determine the cause of any loss in hearing or comprehension.

Labs that handle any ototoxic substances (see the OSHA article for a more complete list) should consider addressing all noise-safety issues, such as enclosing mass spec roughing pumps in dedicated lab furniture, by using our IonBench MS. To learn more about the noise-dampening effects of IonBench dedicated lab furniture, contact Tim Hawkins today at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.

Office Noise Safety Study Results Have Bearing for Lab Safety Too

Many studies on standard office work environments have little correlation with the lab environment — but there are exceptions to every rule. The results of a recent study of 1,200 employees and executives, conducted by Oxford Economics and Plantronics, reveal some helpful understandings about workplace noise that impacts lab safety as well as the office milieu.

Focusing without Interruptions

One goal of the study was to examine the impact of open-plan workspaces, which are increasingly the norm for office construction. Since many labs feature open-plan workspaces, the results of this study are particularly relevant for lab safety. The study revealed one of the most important priorities for workers was the ability to focus without interruptions. Many of the perks and amenities, such as free food and a place to relax, were much less important than the ability to work effectively.

Unfortunately, open office plans do not facilitate that ability to focus. Conversations amongst colleagues and the compound effects of simple sounds like drawers closing and technology humming have created a noisy workspace where employees find it difficult to concentrate. Furthermore, executives — who have retained their private offices — are not aware of the prevalence of both noise and employee discomfort with it.

Millennials and Lab Safety

Another aspect of this study focused on the role of technology and constant connectivity. The survey included 300 Millennial employees who were more likely than their older colleagues to find noise — especially ambient noise — to be a distraction at work. They are also more likely to take steps to avoid that noise, either through listening to music on headsets or leaving the office in order to find a quieter place to work.

In the lab environment, both of those finding could cause problems. From a lab safety perspective, headsets that can drown out ambient noise could also prevent the wearer from hearing words spoken by others. In the case of a lab safety accident, this can have serious consequences. Obviously, lab workers cannot leave the lab and still get their work done since their job often relies on sensitive, integrated equipment that must remain in the lab rather than moved around in the way that a laptop can be picked up and taken to another part of the office complex.

Technology and Noise Safety

Another interesting finding in this study relates to the role of technology in the workplace. Technology integration is, in the study’s words, “a work in progress.” Employees are expected to stay connected with the office on their tech devices at all times, but a full 40% say that there is no seamless integration between their home and office tools. At one level, this is less of a concern for the lab environment and lab safety because staff are limited in what they can take home to work on.

On the other hand, the constant push for connectivity can become in itself a lab safety issue. The study found that connectivity breeds compulsive behavior, which can lead to burnout. This burnout can have severe lab safety consequences when levels of noise and distractions lead to unfocused work and workplace accidents. Employees who retreat into their tech devices to escape noise are more likely to be distracted by their tech and oblivious to what is happening around them.

The results of this study confirm the need to address noise safety by minimizing noise in the lab. This is why our dedicated lab furniture includes vacuum pump enclosures that decrease noise by 75%. To learn more about how noise safety measures and dedicated lab furniture can make a difference in your lab, contact Tim Hawkins at 1-888-669-1233 or by email:  tim.hawkins@farhawk.com.