5 quick facts about noise pollution in your lab

February 19, 2020


Your work demands concentration and focus. Being able to communicate clearly and effectively is critical for lab safety, health, and research accuracy. High noise levels in your lab can lead to a variety of medical issues and leave you susceptible to hazards due to misunderstood verbal instructions. A great way to reduce noise levels in the lab is to select equipment designed to generate less noise.

1. How loud is too loud?

Working among loud noises over an extended period of time can cause serious health issues, such as hearing loss. But how loud is too loud exactly? Noises over 120 decibels (dB), experienced for even the shortest period of time, can have an immediate impact and cause permanent hearing damage.  For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the United States Department of Labor has set the standard 29 CFR 1910.95, requiring that a hearing conservation program be in place for environments that are at 85 dBA or higher with staff working an 8-hour shift. The higher the dBA, the lower the amount of time a person can work in the environment. According to the standard, if noise levels are at 90 dBA, a worker can only be exposed to it or work in the environment for 4 hours.  

Exposure to high levels of noise can lead to:

  • Hearing loss

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) 

  • Stress

  • Anxiety

  • High blood pressure

  • Chronic fatigue 

The recommended upper limit for speech to be intelligible is a noise level of 55 dB. If the noise level in the laboratory is too high for the staff to hear what is being said, whether in conversation or on the telephone, there is a danger of misunderstanding instructions or laboratory results. Employers should evaluate improvements in design, engineering controls, and instrumentation that will reduce the noise generated.

2. What’s causing all this noise?

Most noise levels in laboratories are below the thresh-hold level that can damage hearing, however lab noise can still be fairly loud and obstructive.

Operation of the following equipment can contribute to excessive noise pollution in your lab: 

  • Large analyzers

  • Outdated vacuum pumps 

  • Stirrer motors

  • Compressors 

  • Centrifuges

The rotary vane vacuum pumps of the past are no doubt loud, hard to move pieces of machinery. If you've worked with these pumps before, you know that removing their oil smell and loud noises (which only get worse with age) is a major concern for your lab. However, by removing them, you may inhibit your process from obtaining the vacuum it requires. By moving the pump to an equipment room or even just meters away, you'll increase the time it takes to reach the pressure that you need for your experiments or instruments. It's important to understand that a vacuum pump's effective pumping speed can be inhibited by distance, bends, and valves, resulting in longer pump down times or the inability to meet your pressure requirements. In addition, the more connections there are, the more risks there are of leaks in a system.  

To maximize the efficiency of the pump, researchers might want this pump closer to them and their process, as opposed to having a much larger or more expensive pump located in an equipment room several meters away. Modern vacuum pumps allow researchers to bring vacuum even closer to where it’s needed, by using variable frequency drive and non-contacting vacuum generators. These two technologies vastly improve the lab technicians’ ability to work and communicate even with the pump right next to them, compared to older rotary vane technology, which is loud and obnoxious. With products like the Ecodry Plus operating no louder than at 52dBA, Leybold is allowing researchers and lab managers to turn workplaces into quieter spaces.

3. How do I know if I am being exposed to dangerous levels of noise?

  • Do co-workers have to speak very loudly to be heard?

  • Do you have to turn the car radio volume higher on the way home compared to the drive to work?

  • Do you have ringing in your ears after work hours?

  • Do you have to ask your family or friends outside of work to repeat what they have just said? 

  • Do you have difficulty in hearing higher-pitched sounds, including the phone, doorbell, or alarm clock?

4. How can I effectively measure noise levels in my lab?

Lab personnel can quickly and easily monitor the noise levels generated by lab equipment by using a sound level meter to identify excessive levels. If a piece of equipment is found to be surpassing the permissible safety exposure recommended by OSHA, this equipment should be evaluated seriously, and updates and safety measures should be implemented immediately. These health hazards not only threaten the well-being of personnel, but may also reduce productivity. Secondary lab safety issues, such as inattention and carelessness due to tiredness or distraction, also becomes a risk. 

5. Noise reduction checklist

  • Upgrade from a wet to dry vacuum pump and remove excessive noise-producing equipment from your research lab.

  • Make sure any controlled-temperature room compressor is moved to a remote location.

  • Treat your lab walls and ceiling with acoustic tiles to absorb excessive sound bounce-back.

  • Provide lab-safety-rated earplugs or earmuffs for each lab employee or researcher. 

  • Create a lab safety noise policy that clearly outlines actions required to reduce noise levels and post it in a visible place. 

Reading a few quick facts is quite different to the challenge of ensuring compliance to safety practices in the lab. While these tips can get you started, keeping everyone safe takes teamwork. Download our 5 Quick Facts Summary and print it out for display in your lab. If you'd like to know more about how the ECODRY Plus can help reduce noise in your lab, contact the Leybold team by clicking the button below.  

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