Tag Archives: lab safety

Recognizing a Noise Safety Researcher

Yes, we manufacture dedicated lab furniture. We also care about the health and well-being of the researchers who use our lab benches. This is why we post occasional news about lab safety, noise safety, and preventable lab accidents. This time we’re focusing on the long-term work done by a naval researcher who recently won an important award for his noise safety research.

The Safe-in-Sound Award

The honor is the Safe-in-Sound award, which was created by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Hearing Conservation Association. The award is focused on recognizing excellence in hearing-loss prevention. This year’s winner, Kurt Yankaskas, manages the Office of Naval Research’s noise-induced hearing-loss program. His focus is on reducing and mitigating the prolonged exposure to high levels of noise that many sailors encounter in the line of duty.

Noise Safety Challenges in the U.S. Navy

Naval vessels and shipyards are noisy places. Sailors work alongside machines that routinely exceed the safe decibel rating for significant periods of time. In fact, those who serve on Navy ships can be surrounded by noise for 24 hours a day, with no relief for ears or brain (what researchers call audiological rest). Even with hearing protection, the noise generated by airplanes taking off and landing on aircraft carriers (with noise levels over 150 dBA), for example, can be a significant source of noise safety issues, including workplace safety, quality of life, and communicational effectiveness.

It is this final issue of communication on which Mr. Yankaskas has focused his research. As we have discussed before, hearing and understanding verbal commands and conversation can be critical to safety in any workplace situation, especially the laboratory. Extended exposure to such high, and continuous, levels of sound can damage essential auditory nerves and even alter brain circuits. Mr. Yankaskas and his team focus on four multidisciplinary areas: noise control, susceptibility, medical research, and hearing protection. His passion and commitment to this work, and to educating the public on the issue of noise safety, were additional factors in his receiving the Safe-in-Sound award last month.

Noise Safety Challenges in Your Lab Environment

Fortunately, we don’t all have to work around noisy jet fighter engines. However, all labs have some lab safety issues, including the buildup of noise in the work environment. For many, extended exposure to mass spec roughing pump noise can become a noise safety issue, especially in the area of clear and comprehensible communication.

This is why we have crafted the IonBench MS with its noise-masking vacuum pump enclosures. We guarantee a 15 dBA reduction in noise output with our dedicated lab furniture, which is more than a 75 percent reduction in noise levels. Our vibration reduction system also minimizes the noise from mass spec vibrations.

We congratulate Mr. Yankaskas for his work and his commitment to educating people within and beyond the Navy on the issues of noise-induced hearing loss. To learn more about how our IonBench MS can help support noise safety in your lab, contact Tim Hawkins today via email or at 1-888-669-1233.

Why Everyday Noises Impact Lab Safety

We frequently point out the risks of a noisy lab environment. But workplace noise is only part of the exposure we all get daily. You see, we all encounter a variety of noise sources every day.

The total amount of noise you experience outside the lab on a given day will impact the amount your body can endure inside the lab. Thus, lab safety must take into account the bigger picture.

OSHA Guidelines and Lab Safety Parameters

As we’ve discussed before, OSHA recommends an exposure to noise safety levels of no more than 85 dBA during an eight-hour period. However, the recommended maximum exposure level limit drops exponentially as the noise volume increases. This means that lab safety parameters for a noise exposure level of 110 dBA would be only for a duration of one minute and 29 seconds. Obviously, noise exposure at such high levels, while rare in labs, cannot be a sustainable feature of any workplace.

Mounting dBA Exposure with Everyday Noises

To give you a sense of the scope of the issue, let’s consider what a morning routine for a worker might be like. They are awakened by an alarm clock (65-80 dBA), grind their morning coffee beans (70-80 dBA) and boil water in a whistling teakettle (80), then shower and blow-dry their hair (60-95) and/or use an electric razor (50-80). This means, before they’ve even left the house, they’ve been exposed to multiple minutes of noise that is near or above the OSHA recommendation.

When your employees leave the house, it just gets worse. Heavy traffic is rated at 85 dBA, while the subway is rated between 90-115. Encountering a jackhammer in road construction will expose them to 130 and the siren of a passing ambulance will add another 120. By the time they reach work, their ears, brain and heart have already been exposed to significant amounts of noise.

Here are some additional common noise levels that can impact employees in your lab:

Home
•       TV audio – 70
•       Garbage disposal – 70-95
•       Flush toilet – 75-85
•       Doorbell – 80
•       Food processor – 80-90
•       Blender – 80-90
•       Garbage disposal – 80-95
•       Baby crying – 110
Work
•       Quiet office, library – 40
•       Large office or lab – 50
•       power lawn mower–65-95
•       Manual tools – 80
•       Handsaw – 85
•       Jet plane (at ramp) – 120
•       Chainsaw – 125
•       Air raid siren – 130
Other
•       Noisy restaurant – 85
•       Shouted conversation – 90
•       Motorcycle – 95-100
•       Symphony concert – 110
•       Car horn – 110
•       Rock concert 110-120
•       Walkman/MP3 Player – 112
•       Football game – 117

Preventing Noise Level Overload in Your Lab

Obviously, with so much noise around us at all times, it’s critical for lab safety and employee health to minimize noise in your lab. This is why we have integrated multiple noise-reducing factors into our IonBench MS. Our vacuum pump enclosures guarantee a noise-reduction level of 15 dBA. Our dedicated lab furniture is vibration-free and our cooling fans are isolated and quiet.

If you’re ready to focus on lab safety and cut down on cumulative noise exposure, contact Tim Hawkins via email or at 1-888-669-1233 to learn more about our dedicated lab furniture.

Tales from the Lab: Investing in Lab Safety with Specially Designed Refrigerators and Freezers

In our ongoing quest to make labs safer, there is a culprit that is found in some labs that has no business being used for anything. We’re referring to a standard refrigerator.

A typical refrigerator, while great for storing snacks, lunch and soda, is not designed to withstand lab storage needs. There are numerous documented cases of lab safety accidents that have occurred when flammable materials with a flash point below 100°F are stored in a common refrigerator. Often, in these incidents, vapors escape, a spark ignites them, high pressure builds quickly and dramatically, and an explosion occurs, causing up to thousands of dollars in damage and the potential for human injury or even death.

Typical Lab Safety Refrigerator and Freezer Accidents

A few examples will suffice to make our point. In the first, tubes of petroleum ether were stored in a household freezer. The tubes were not well sealed and enough petroleum ether evaporated to surpass the low explosive limit of about 1.0%. When an internal component let off a spark, causing the freezer to detonate, damage to the lab and equipment was well over $250,000.

In the second example, a university research lab explosion was caused when vapors escaping a container of flammable liquid found an ignition source inside of a household refrigerator. The fridge latch failed, the door blew across the room, windows were broken, and the contents of the refrigerator were scattered across the room, presumably causing damage to several ongoing projects.

In each case, no humans were hurt because no one was in the room at the time of the lab safety accident. This was fortunate, but certainly cannot be guaranteed.

The Hidden Danger of Common Refrigerators and Freezers

Standard household-rated refrigerators and freezers are never acceptable storage options for flammable materials. This goes without saying, but simply labeling household appliances as unfit for flammable storage has also not proven to be sufficient either.

Refrigerators and freezers can operate for 20 to 30 years, often being moved from one lab and lab supervisor to another. Promises made by the purchaser not to use the item for flammable storage can be forgotten, or lab techs in a hurry can decide to store those materials in the closest appliance “for just one night”—with potentially costly consequences. It’s, therefore, much smarter to avoid standard refrigerator and freezer use for any purpose (even snacks and lunch) in a laboratory.

The Importance of Investing in Dedicated Refrigerators and Freezers

Fortunately for lab safety, there are flammable-materials-storage refrigerators and freezers designed specifically for labs. With these appliances, all potential ignition sources for flammable vapors are located outside the cooling portion of the unit. These units are prominently labeled as being safe for flammable storage. (There are also explosion-proof refrigerators and freezers that isolate ignition sources from both outside and inside the unit. They are designed for labs where flammable gases or vapors are present in the labs themselves for extended periods of time.)

The Importance of Investing in Dedicated Lab Furniture

Certainly, investing in lab safety is a high priority for everyone. Dedicated cold storage is only one way to insure it. Dedicated lab furniture like the IonBench MS, which safely supports and transports heavy equipment and isolates vacuum pump noise below acceptable levels is another. Our IonBench LC also safely raises and lowers instruments for safe and easy access. To learn more about the lab safety features of our dedicated lab furniture, contact Tim Hawkins via email or at 1-888-669-1233.

Tales from the Lab: Lab Safety and Cleaning Your Dedicated Lab Furniture

Periodically, we post about lab accidents as part of our mission to promote lab safety and its connection to our line of dedicated lab furniture. Seldom, however, does a lab safety accident occur that dovetails with our previous posts in such a clear and compelling fashion as this one. In this case, a lab accident, which fortunately wasn’t disastrous, clearly illustrates the need to carefully and completely follow cleaning protocol.

What Happened?

This incident involved a researcher was preparing his lab for sterile work by wiping down his lab bench with a diluted mix of ethanol. We outline this process in this post about keeping your dedicated lab furniture sparkling clean. This researcher used the correct 70% ethanol mixture and a paper towel, as we outline in our instructions.

Unfortunately, he did not dispose of the paper towel properly when he was finished. Instead, he left it sitting on an adjacent desk. After letting the lab bench dry, he lit a Bunsen burner on the bench. The fumes from the paper towel were close enough that it caught fire when he lit the burner.

The researcher acted quickly, using a handy beaker and water to extinguish the flames. This, unfortunately, generated enough smoke to set off the fire alarm. He properly cleaned up the area and evacuated the lab, seeking out fire responders to let them know what had happened, and that the situation had been contained and resolved.

What Else This Lab Safety Accident Revealed

Naturally, there was an investigation of the incident and what could be learned from the mistakes that were made. The researcher used water, but smothering the flames is recommended. The researcher was wearing a plain white lab coat, not a flame-resistant lab coat. As a result, new lab safety procedures were put in place to require a flame-resistant coat when working with flammable materials and Bunsen burners. A fire safety drill was performed to remind all staff of appropriate protocol and procedures.

What Lessons Were Learned about Cleaning Dedicated Lab Furniture

Additional suggestions and precautions are revealed by this lab safety accident. If ethanol catches fire, it should be smothered with a dry cloth. Your dedicated lab furniture, as well as any other furniture in the vicinity, should be examined for flammable materials before lighting a Bunsen burner. After cleaning your lab bench, make certain all ethanol has evaporated before proceeding with any further tasks. Make certain all ethanol has evaporated from your gloves as well—or, better yet, properly dispose of the gloves and the paper towel used after you clean your lab bench. Only then should you proceed with handling any burners or flammable materials.

As we noted in our prior post, ethanol is both an effective and a cost-effective cleaner. However, it is only a good cleaner for your dedicated lab furniture when it is used properly. When you make lab safety is your primary objective, and focus clearly on the tasks at hand, you can maintain a safe work environment and avoid lab safety accidents like the one above.

We make lab safety our primary objective with many elements of our IonBench MS, including strong caster wheels for safe movement and accessibility, vacuum pump enclosures to reduce noise, and a rough pump overheat protection alarm. To learn more about the safety features of our IonBenches, contact Tim Hawkins via email or at 1-888-669-1233.

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.