We don't usually think of noise causing harm to people, but it can. Noise affects us whether we are at work, home or play...and it doesn't have to be unusually loud to be damaging. There is compelling research to show that people are affected by the different types of noise in ways that they don't even realize. In the workplace, noise is unwanted, unpredictable and uncontrollable sound; but sound actually does not need to be loud to be labeled as workplace noise. In offices, the lack of speech privacy in open plan or traditional offices creates distractions, increases error rates and reduces productivity.
Low Frequency Noise
When working in open plan office spaces, (which is the most popular style of office design), the hardest sounds to eliminate are those of the HVAC system. HVAC vibrates at a continuous low frequency hum - between 50 and 70hz. This is approximately the range of human hearing where sound becomes omni-directional - that means we cannot exactly locate the source of a sound. This is also the range of human hearing where we can even feel a small amount of vibration, which, after prolonged exposure, could cause nausea. People can complain of headaches, feeling anxious or stressed and the culprit can unknowingly be the background low frequency noise level that is responsible. A Cornell University Study has found that noise is harmful to mental health as well as physical health.
The Cornell University Study also showed that workers in open plan offices where there are constant low levels of low frequency noise are less likely to be creative.
Workers in noisy offices are 40% less likely to continue to work on a complex task than workers in quiet workspaces.
The desire for designing more "green" and to possibly gain LEED certification calls for the removal of products in the office environment that used to block the HVAC noise. As a consequence, the offices have become much noisier than they were in the past. Using an acoustical consultant or an acoustical engineer is critical to the proper design so that new and different approaches can be used to mitigate office noise.
The human body reacts to these types of noise irritations through a complex set of physiological stress responses, resulting in a rise in blood pressure, a change in the heart rhythm, and an increase in hormone levels. If noise is sustained, over time the stress can lead to cardiovascular or circulatory problems. Noise can interfere with sleep, leading to attention and concentration lapses the next day.
What an enormous invisible cost that is to the employer whose staff is less productive, feels more stressed and feels less well. Poorly designed acoustics can cut into your client's profitability over the long run.
If you advertise that you use cutting edge design technology in your architectural design, then acoustical engineering and design must not be over looked.
If you would like more information on workplace noise: