Tag Archives: noise safety

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.

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.

 

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.

How Even Moderate Noise Can Impact Lab Safety

Most researchers know that labs can be noisy. Between the sounds of the various instruments in the lab, other machinery, multiple conversations, HVAC systems, and other sounds, it can be difficult to hear yourself think, much less the soft “pop” that precedes a sudden lab safety issue or accident. But that’s not all. It turns out that even moderate noise levels can compromise lab safety, according to an Australian researcher.

Why Does Moderate Noise Matter?

Most work spaces tend to focus on the lab safety hazards that arise when noise is technically loud enough to cause physical damage to our ears. Certainly there are specific decibel measurements that, if exceeded in a lab environment, will have a physical impact on one’s hearing.

As part of last year’s Hearing Awareness Week, however, Catherine McMahon, head of audiology at Macquarie University’s Australian Hearing Hub, announced “Moderate [noise] levels which may not be damaging to hearing can increase stress, decrease motivation and therefore reduce workplace productivity.”

What Is Moderate Noise?

In terms of lab safety, what constitutes moderate noise can be subjective, which makes it more difficult for employers to address. Moreover, the trend toward open, collaborative workplaces, including modern offices and many labs, means that conversations and other everyday sounds from adjacent workstations are more prevalent than ever—and increasingly being recognized as potential contributors to noise safety problems. But each situation is different.

“Noise is a subjective parameter; therefore we need to assess how an individual reacts to sound and determine its effects on distractibility, stress and productivity,” said Professor McMahon. “Speech from an adjacent cubicle can be considered annoying if it is distracting others from working, which is not simply a matter of the level of an individual’s voice.”

When Annoyance Becomes a Lab Safety Concern

We may think that annoyance is simply something we must accept when working with others. However, when researchers are exposed to annoying noise on a daily basis, stress symptoms can develop. As we’ve discussed before, such stress can lead to sleep loss, cardiovascular disease and a host of related symptoms.

Unfortunately, commonly used remedies will not work in a lab situation. In an office setting, earplugs or music are often recommended to block out annoying noise, but in a lab, those solutions just aren’t as practical. For example, you need to be able to hear certain sounds or colleagues’ warnings in the event a problem arises. If you block out all noise, you will block out the sounds you most need to hear in case of an emergency or accident.

Addressing Noise Safety at the Source

Addressing noise safety concerns is a primary reason for the development of our IonBench MS. With its specially designed enclosures, we have reduced vacuum pump noise by a guaranteed 15 dBA—a 75 percent reduction. This allows researchers to work collaboratively, right next to the bench, without needing to raise their voices in a way that would annoy colleagues at other workstations. In this way, our dedicated lab furniture becomes a key component of an effective lab safety protocol.

To learn more about IonBench and our commitment to a low-stress and low-annoyance work environment, contact us today.