Tag Archives: lab safety

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.

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.

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.

 

Lab Safety Issues Aren’t Always Obvious or Catastrophic

We frequently talk about safety in the lab on our blog and periodically share news about accidents that bring attention to the issue of lab safety. We do this to remind busy researchers that some safety issues can be addressed by investing in high-quality dedicated lab furniture. Other safety issues are sometimes not as simple.

Not All Accidents are Obvious

And not all accidents are catastrophic. Some of the most insidious lab accidents, in fact, occur over time. As we have pointed out in the past, even moderate levels of noise in the lab can have hidden, adverse effects on the health and well-being of staff. Long-term noise exposure wears down a body’s system in multiple ways, causing stress and a multitude of silent secondary illnesses like cardiovascular disease and sleep loss.

A Recent Insidious Lab Accident

Noise is not the only insidious cause of lab incidents. As we learned recently, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York experienced a lab safety accident that could have resulted in the loss of her sight. She was inspecting agarose gels under UV light, not wearing goggles, and did not know that a simple plastic cover on the UV light screen needed to be closed to protect both her eyes and her skin.

Over the course of just a few months, she suffered significant damage to her eyes. A trip to the hospital and many visits with a specialist followed. Two incorrect diagnoses slowed the process of addressing this lab safety issue. While the good news is that this student suffered no long-term permanent sight damage, the accident clearly illustrates the dangers of hidden lab safety issues.

Improving Lab Safety with Guidelines, Notices, and Meetings

Fortunately, Columbia University took a series of concrete steps to address the causes of this lab accident. First, they updated their existing lab safety guidelines to include safety information and precautions related to ultraviolet equipment. At each UV workstation, they placed goggles in a prominent location and added warning signs about UV dangers.

They also focused on conversation and collaboration. They held a series of meetings with staff from the university’s office of environmental health and safety. Those meetings focused on both the specific concerns of working in that particular lab and on the identification of general hazards. Lab workers also met together and discussed the accident. Then they went further. Each person shared which lab safety hazards they focused on, recognizing that no one person usually considers everything. By doing this, every staff member heard about the variety of hazards within the lab.

Including Dedicated Lab Furniture in the Lab Safety Conversation

Hopefully some member of that university lab team mentioned noise as a lab safety issue. Like UV light, noise is often taken for granted in a lab because its dangers aren’t obvious. This is why we designed our MS dedicated lab furniture with two vacuum pump enclosures that eliminate the noise from those pumps by 75%. To learn more about how dedicated lab furniture can prevent insidious lab accidents, contact Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.

The Ubiquitous Decibel: Noise Safety Uses and Abbreviations

Workers, including lab personnel, tend to develop their own internal lingo in professional settings, where colleagues often work alongside each other for years. While lab shorthand can be useful—and sometimes even entertaining—it’s no substitute for clear communication using well-defined terms, especially where lab safety is concerned.

In a prior post, we took a look at the history and early usage of the decibel, a humble and ubiquitous term that’s used in many conversations about noise safety in the lab. This time around we want to consider some of the ways decibel measurements are used in scientific situations. We’ll also cover some of the most common decibel abbreviations, which could figure into lab safety discussions concerning noise.

The Pressure of Sound

Decibels are used to measure sound in a surprising number of capacities. As we discussed previously, humans often perceive noise in terms of intensity. Particularly loud noise has been described, for example, as “a wall of sound.” Sound intensity or “sound pressure level” (SPL) is measured in decibels (dB). A measurement of 0 dB corresponds to an SPL of 0.0002 microbars, which is the point at which humans without hearing loss are able to perceive a sound.

Since our ears’ hearing capacity, as well as decibel measurements, increase logarithmically (by a factor of 10), 120 dB—which is beyond the noise safety level of 85 dBA, as determined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—describes a change in sound pressure level of  compared to the 0 dB threshold level.

But the dB isn’t just used for measuring sound. For example, amateur radio is another place where decibels matter. Electronic and radio circuits must be able to handle signal levels that vary by many orders of magnitude. High frequency (HF) band signal strength is measured in S units, which correspond to a change in strength of between 5 and 6 dB. However, most amateur radios are not calibrated to the high degree necessary in modern lab equipment, and the standard change in signal strength of one S unit is generally considered to be 4 dB.

Abbreviations Matter

Sound and amateur radio are just two examples of decibels in action, but there are actually more uses. You will note that in many circumstances, the “dB” is followed by an additional abbreviation (as in the OSHA noise safety limit mentioned above). Such abbreviations indicate a specific reference value. For example, power levels are given in dBm, where “m” stands for milliwatt. Here, 0 dBm corresponds to 1 milliwatt of power, while 10 dBm correlates to 10 milliwatts. These reference numbers are frequently used to make system calculations easier and to indicate which capacity the dB measurement is being used in.

Noise Safety and dBA

The decibel suffix that occurs most frequently in our work at IonBench involves an appended “A”—written dBA, dBa, or dB(a). This stands for “adjusted” and is the relative noise safety level as perceived by the human ear. “A” refers to a necessary adjustment to reduce the decibel values of sounds at low frequencies, in comparison to unweighted decibels at higher frequencies. This adjustment is made because the human ear is less sensitive to low audio frequencies, especially below 1,000 Hz.

Talking Lab Safety

We hope you have found this decibel primer helpful. We know that sometimes the human perception of an indefinable “wall of sound” can make it difficult to discuss aspects of noise safety. Perhaps this overview of decibels can help facilitate internal lab discussions going forward, making lab safety conversations easier to have and to understand.

If you have further questions about decibels or the dedicated lab furniture we’ve crafted to minimize sound hazards in your lab, contact Tim Hawkins today at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 888-669-1233.

The Decibel: An Important Term in Lab Safety

We talk a lot about noise in this blog, for very good reason: A quieter lab is a safer lab. Lab safety requires being able to easily hear and understand your fellow lab workers, so we engineer our dedicated lab furniture to make your lab quieter.

In order to talk about sound and noise, however, you need the proper terminology. The decibel, often abbreviated as dB, is a frequent term in posts where we talk about noise safety in the lab. Let’s take a closer look at the humble decibel—where it came from, what it means, and why it’s so ubiquitous in discussions about noise and lab safety.

History of the Term ‘Decibel’

Where does the term “decibel” comes from? Modern efforts to measure sound volume originated in the need to quantify signal loss over telephone lines and telegraph cables. Early terms included MSC (for miles of standard cable) and TU (for transmission unit).

Eventually, the Bell System renamed the TU as the decibel, classifying it as one-tenth (hence the “deci”) of a “bel” (which was named after Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone—The full scientific name of the bel is the Alexander Bell which explains why the B in “dB” is capitalized).

Understanding the Decibel

In the National Bureau of Standards Yearbook of 1931, decibel was defined as follows:

The decibel may be defined by the statement that two amounts of power differ by 1 decibel when they are in the ratio of 100.1 and any two amounts of power differ by N decibels when they are in the ratio of 10N(0.1). The number of transmission units expressing the ratio of any two powers is therefore ten times the common logarithm of that ratio.

The bel signifies the logarithm of a 10:1 ratio between two power quantities (the ratio of measured power to reference power), or the logarithm of a ratio between two field quantities (the ratio of the squares of measured field and reference field) of √10:1.

The Spread of Decibel Usage in Addressing Noise Safety Situations

Over the decades since, the decibel has become a common standard of measurement for a variety of situations, including assessing noise safety for labs and other workplace environments. The decibel measures acoustics (as a unit of sound pressure), perception (as a measurement of intensity for both sound and light), optics (to measure loss over an optical link), and electronics (to measure amplitude ratios).

As we’ve noted previously, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s noise safety standards are measured in decibels. While the International Committee for Weights and Measures declined to include the decibel in the International System of Units, it is recognized by other international bodies, including the International Electrotechnical Commission and the International Organization for Standardization.

Connecting the Decibel with Lab Safety

In terms of lab safety, fewer dBs of noise is an important goal. That is where our dedicated lab furniture can make a big difference. Like the decibel itself, human perception of sound—especially sounds that intensify annoyance or hinder efficiency—seems to increase almost exponentially.

The sound of vacuum pumps and other mass spectrometry equipment can quickly contribute to noise safety hazards in the lab, especially when layered over the sounds of fume hoods, air conditioning and handling equipment, and essential conversations. However, our IonBenches are guaranteed to produce a 15 dBA reduction in roughing-pump noise. To find out other ways our dedicated lab furniture can enhance your lab’s safety, get in touch with Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 888-669-1233.

PS: Do you know why a letter like “A” often follows “dB”? Stay tuned for our next post, which will explain dB suffixes, as well as various ways to use the dB measurement.

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.