Tag Archives: lab noise

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.

2018 Lab Safety Goal: Recognize Lab Noise as Serious Risk

RiskWe recently shared a disturbing report about the major gap between organizational culture and lab safety realities. We’ve all seen instances where company culture doesn’t exactly promote an environment where safety protocols can realistically be followed.

Petrotechnics surveyed over 200 senior leaders in the hydrocarbon industry and found that they held grave concerns over the lack of safety follow-through in their organizations. While company literature said all the right things about making safety a priority, the organizational procedures and practices did not hold up their end of the bargain when it came to following through on those priorities.

Most worrisome was the finding that the corporate culture in the majority of these organizations was actually resistant to implementation of process safety and risk management (PSM) procedures. This resistance is not necessarily rooted in carelessness or even maliciousness—rather, it is rooted in the natural tendency for corporations to drive productivity.

Let’s take this insight one step further and focus on a key concern of ours: lab noise reduction.

The Case for Lab Noise Reduction

A noisy lab is not just a threat to the ears of those who work there—though that is well-proven and certainly a necessary priority—it also linked with a range of diverse health issues. These include an increase in stress (with all its symptoms, including lack of sleep, short-temperedness, and an inability to concentrate, all of which can impact the interpretation of results in a critical lab procedure), coronary disease, hypertension and even our brain’s ability to process information correctly (again potentially leading to faulty test reporting).

Lab noise can interfere with critical communications, making it a safety hazard in a much different way. A noisy work environment makes verbal communications very difficult. And when lab personnel are dealing with potentially hazardous materials, there is very little room for error. What if a lab tech was to mishear instructions for handling a certain compound because the noise level in the lab was too high? This mishap could result in cross contamination, chemical burns, or even fires or explosions.

Integrating Lab Noise Reduction into Your Organizational Culture

We believe that lab noise reduction is a key ingredient in the lab safety recipe. Too many people, at all levels of an organization, can take their hearing and health for granted, choosing instead to focus on preventing the more spectacular lab accidents that make the news.

Noise doesn’t seem like an immediate threat or a potential major hazard—its impact is, however, insidious and lasting.

It’s why we’ve integrated lab noise reduction into our IonBench MS, which isolates up to three vacuum pumps in specially designed chambers of our custom designed lab furniture. With a lab noise reduction of over 75%, this dedicated lab furniture will minimize lab safety issues and facilitate efficient and accurate results by allowing everyone in the lab to hear each other, communicate clearly, and focus on research rather than PSM.

The more aware lab managers are to seemingly nonthreatening safety issues, the better the overall productivity of a lab and well-being of everyone there. We encourage you, and your team to embrace an integrated organizational culture that pays heed to even seemingly benign risks like lab noise. A well-thought-out lab noise reduction strategy can be a key element in effective lab safety culture. To learn more about how we can help, contact us today.