Tag Archives: Dedicated Lab Benches

Secondhand Noise: The Latest in Noise Safety Research

Did you know that the number one complaint in calls to New York City’s 311 line (for non-emergency reports) regards noise? Downtown Manhattan’s noise levels can frequently reach 95 decibels, which is far above the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended average exposure level of 70 decibels. Some scientists are now calling noise “the new secondhand smoke” because of its significant, but under-recognized, detrimental effects.

We focus on noise safety periodically because of the multiple adverse impacts that excess noise can have on people’s health and well-being. Excess noise is also an important lab safety issue. So, here is some of the latest information on noise’s impact in cities across the world and what some places are doing to address noise pollution.

Studying New York’s Noise Safety Problem

As noted above, Manhattan’s noise levels can reach 95 decibels (dBA). These readings have prompted New York University to begin a five-year study, The Sounds of New York City, that is monitoring noise in the city. Unfortunately, there are no studies available on changes in city noise levels over time – whether noise pollution is getting worse. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that it is. This includes the rising number of 311 complaints about volume and increases in noise-related lawsuits and hearing problems.

Regrettably, city noise is not an equal-opportunity offender. Poorer and racially segregated neighborhoods are exposed to higher levels of noise pollution. A 2017 study by the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley demonstrated an ambient noise difference of almost two decibels between neighborhoods having a median annual household income below $25,000 and neighborhoods with incomes above $100,000.

Noticing the Impact of Noise Pollution

As we’ve noted elsewhere, human bodies suffer multiple detrimental effects from noise safety issues. These include annoyance, stress, the risk of cardiovascular disease, and a decrease in cognitive performance. From a lab safety perspective, comprehension and the capacity for focused attention also suffer when the body is under stress from excess noise. Loss of hearing can also contribute to lab safety accidents when staff cannot hear instructions correctly, or miss problematic sounds altogether.

Noise can even follow us outside of work, on vacation for instance. As we’ve reported earlier, the US National Parks are barraged with various noises, specifically aircraft, road noise, and industrial noise pollution that mostly drifts in from outside the parks. Most commonly, this results from drilling for oil and natural gas. And while airplane noise has actually decreased over the past 35 years, due the development of quieter engines, this has been offset by an increase in the volume of flights.

Seeking Stricter Noise Level Recommendations

Standards in the U.S. lag noise protection in the European Union, which has better recognized the dangers of noise on its citizens. While OSHA recommends an average of no more than 85 dBA over an eight-hour work shift, and the EPA recommends no more than 70 dBA over a 24-hour period, the E.U. set a significantly lower standard of 40 dBA back in 2009.

Addressing the Noise Problem with Creative Solutions

Many regions and industries in the US are already seeking to address secondhand noise with new noise safety solutions. Most of road noise comes not from engines, but from tires interfacing with roads. In Texas, the direction of rain-draining grooves in concrete is being changed, so tires align with the grooves. Phoenix is experimenting with adding old, shredded tires to concrete, both dampening road noise and effectively recycling over 6,000 tires for every four-lane mile of road. Other cities are actively regulating and fining everything from tricked-out hot rods and motorcycles to helicopters and leaf blowers.

Naturally, we have also tackled noise safety with our dedicated lab furniture. To learn more about the noise safety features in our IonBench dedicated lab furniture, contact Tim Hawkins via email or at 1-888-669-1233.

Truly Tragic Lab Safety Accidents

tragic-lab-safety-accidentsIn the past, we’ve shared some lighthearted stories about lab safety and the accidents that occurred from a lack of it. But lab safety is serious, and lab accidents sometimes don’t have happy endings. While we recognize that light-hearted stories are great for sharing in the break room, it’s the serious ones that tend to bring lab safety to the forefront of your mind in those moments when it really matters.

Following are some of the most serious lab accidents in history. These are cautionary tales. When it comes to lab safety, you just can’t be too careful, which is why our dedicated lab benches come with so many standard safety features.

A Crushing Blow

A graduate student lost three fingers and suffered serious burns because of his lack of understanding about the materials with which he was working. One key component in lab safety is paying attention, especially when working with materials that are unfamiliar. The group of graduate students in question here were definitely unfamiliar. Their professor told them not to make more than 100 mg of nickel hydrazine perchlorate derivatives. Unfortunately, they either did not pay attention, or chose to ignore the professor’s instructions, and assembled 10 grams of the substance.

They also did not understand the explosive nature of their creation and chose to experiment by crushing it with mortar and pestle. The friction and pressure of this activity triggered an explosion, which cost the student those fingers—and a hard lesson for all involved.

Fatal Secondary Effects

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that kills you. In Australia, a technician accidentally burned himself in a hydrofluoric acid spill, but those burns were not the cause of his demise. In fact, he only suffered burns over about 9% of his body—but he still died two weeks later. It was the fluoride that the researcher absorbed through his burned skin. It caused such a depletion of calcium in his body that he died from multiple organ failure.

Of course, medicine has, over time, improved to prevent just these types of tragedies. In this case, calcium gluconate gel should have been applied to his burns. This gel would have literally absorbed the fluoride ions so that they were never taken in by his body in the first place. Instead, the researcher was injected with doses of calcium, and of calcium gluconate to offset the loss, and one of his burned legs was amputated. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and he did not survive. The moral of this story is to keep up with lab safety research and know the latest and greatest treatments for each type of lab accident in which you or your colleagues could conceivably be involved.

Keeping Deadly Substances Safely within Your Lab

Usually with lab safety accidents, it’s not the lab equipment that’s the problem; it’s the human. The well-publicized 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk, Russia, which killed at least 64 people, was initially blamed by the Soviet government on tainted meat. However, years later, it was revealed that a military research facility had been the source of the outbreak—and the cause had been simple negligence. You see, someone forgot to change an exhaust filter in a timely fashion. That oversight resulted in the deaths of scores of people—and it could have been thousands more, if the prevailing winds had been blowing in a different direction!

Lab Safety Takes Many Forms

As these stories reveal, lab safety requires attention, education and timeliness, among other important qualities. There is never a good time to let down your guard in the lab, or do anything short of your best. This is why we have created the best possible dedicated lab benches for use with your mass spectrometers, HPLCs and other research instruments. To learn more about how our benches can contribute to safety in your lab, contact us today.