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Noise reduction and ergonomics

03 December 2008

Noisy work and study places affect our concentration and performance. Increasing interruptions make focussed work harder ,we explore some of the issues now being faced.

When people think of ergonomics they often picture a nice chair or an adjustable workstation. When we consider ergonomics we take a more holistic view of the subject. Factors such as temperature /lighting even the effectiveness of the humble computer mouse can have a bearing on an individuals comfort and work performance. Increasingly we live and work in environments where there is a constant level of noise ready and willing to either distract us from our work and make us feel more tense and less focused. Thankfully there are also now more products and options to reduce noise levels within the workplace or at least bring them down to a tolerable level. Before looking at the ways and means of reducing noise within the workplace it is important to establish the main cause and factors relating to noise and also what is the difference between sound and noise. Finally aside from the human factor how can noise reduction positively impact on a companies business and also affect its bottom line ? What is noise ? Without getting into the technical arena the best way to discriminate noise from sound is as follows………. Firstly think of it in terms of how we perceive noise versus sound…….. Also what is the difference? Sound can be measured and categorized by using decibel readings whereas noise cannot be measured and is much more subjective or personal to the individual. An example of this could be someone working at their laptop in a breakout/café area they have their ipod on and are listening to music at say 70 decibels but still happily working, focussed on the work on their PC. The following day they are in the same place but with no ipod………there is a person on a mobile phone sitting a few metres away talking about their holidays at around 30 decibels ,but the person on the pc cannot focus on their work and is being distracted by a conversation on the other side of the room. This shows it is not always the level of sound that is the issue so much as the type of sound or noise that is being created….. Managing Sound and Noise Once we have established that all sound is not a bad thing but noise is more of a nuisance we can start to assess the types of issues present in the modern working environment. For one individual noise issues may stem from one of their colleagues who has a slightly louder voice and is prone to discuss football and his social diary when his colleagues are trying to focus on work. Another person’s issues may be the constant noise from a hyperactive photocopier positioned near their workstation. Once the nature of the issues are revealed you can start to assess the best way forward in reducing these noise issues from a selection of options as shown below. Whilst all of these options are relevant there are some simple ways of reducing noise such as more plants in the office ,considering headset usage opposed to phones i.e. Bluetooth cordless headsets etc…. and careful planning of workstation positions. If noise control requires a more active approach then the items listed will help both absorb noise (physically absorb sound vibrations and reduce the ) and diffuse noise (change the sound from a specific noise to a more muffled ,less specific sound/noise) Workplace methods of reducing noise include: Acoustic ceiling tiles or clouds Acoustic desk screens or dividers Use of wall art with acoustic panels Plants carpet with acoustic properties sound masking systems for more ideas and a free download please take a look at and click on 'work performance' in the top right corner. This will take you to our download section where more niformation and images are available on this subject. Summary Sound or noise control is a key factor in helping to create an effective working environment and there are many tools available to reduce noise levels. Whilst it is advantageous to reduce specific noise issues we would not advocate trying to massively reduce general office noise levels. Recent research has suggested that general office noise can help stimulate the brain and help us focus on our work as we associate this background noise with our work environment. Active ergonomics relies on all our senses and body being comfortable that is why a more holistic view of the workplace is necessary. For more information on any aspect of ergonomics or any of the items discussed above ,please do not hesitate to call or e-mail us. Our independent status allows us to research the market place and find the right solution for our clients rather than having to ‘force feed’ a solution from a manufacturing partner. This same independence allows us to negotiate a competitive buy price whilst still maintaining high service levels. Tony King Director Improving your quality of life at work

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