A critical factor in the design and operation of any laboratory is the amount of noise the people who work there are exposed to throughout the day. Various agencies including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work enforce noise standards. In Germany, for example, the noise standard for mentally stressful tasks is set at 55 decibels; however, if the noise source is continuous, the threshold for tolerable noise levels for office workers is lower than 55 decibels.
Not only is excessive noise unhealthy, but it could create dangerous situations. In a laboratory, for example, personnel not being able to hear each other over the noise might result in analysis errors if instructions are misunderstood.
Lab managers interested in researching and controlling noise pollution have a number of practical informational resources they can investigate on the topic, including those available from organizations such as The Noise Pollution Clearing House, Noise Free America, and OSHA.
One reason noise pollution has become a work issue is the sheer number of ways noise can enter the laboratory environment, and the fact that noise from all these sources increases the overall noise level. Noise pollution is generally considered to be an issue once the noise level is greater than 55 decibels. So, if a Lab Manager determines that the noise level in the lab is above this level, a first step toward achieving a safer noise level would be to review the list of potential noise pollutants to see which ones could be, or should be addressed.
A Noise Source Checklist
Equipment noise. Almost any equipment used in a lab generates some noise, which can vary based on the type of lab, since some labs use inherently louder equipment than others. The equipment in a chemical laboratory, for example, might include fume hoods, refrigerators, compressors, freezers, nitrogen generators, and instrumentation. As noise is cumulative, lab managers should choose equipment offering sound reduction whenever possible. A biochemistry laboratory or a clinical laboratory might employ ultracentrifuges, large automated analyzers, tissue homogenizers, and stirrer motors. Louder devices might be found in more specialized laboratories such as a rock crusher in a geological lab or pneumatic sample injectors in a quality assurance lab.
Extraneous noise - In addition to noise generated by various devices in the lab, other sources of noise in a lab might include radios, piped-in music and telephones.
Laboratory design considerations - The design of the building may have significant impact on noise level. Since many laboratory facilities are constructed using reinforced concrete for the floors and walls, the walls and ceiling should be fitted with sound absorbing materials, if possible.
External noise - The noise level in a laboratory can be significantly affected by noise from the overall environment. If, for example, the building in which the lab resides is located in an industrial area, it’s likely that there will be noise from cars and trucks.
By conducting an audit of these potential noise sources, Lab Managers will at least have a complete picture of where problems exist and be able to identify opportunities for noise mitigation. While Lab Managers may not be able to change the location of the building in which their lab is located, or parts of its construction, there may well be other factors to control and reduce noise such as equipment selection.
This is the second of a three part series on Noise Pollution in the Laboratory.
A Quieter Approach to Equipment Design - Part 3 of 3
Peter Froehlich, PhD., was contracted by Parker to author the series and white paper. He was assisted by Kim Myers, Product Manager, Parker Hannifin.