30 - Oct - 2019

Building for wellbeing

How good acoustics can improve health and wellbeing in the workplace

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Article, 'A noisy business' by Ben Hancock Managing Director of Oscar Acoustics as featured in Building Products Magazine.

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A noisy business

The explosion in growth of open plan offices means the issue of noise in the workplace is rising up the corporate agenda.  Employees have always been intolerant to excess noise levels due to insufficient acoustic absorption in offices but as we are crammed into less space (79sq.ft compared to 98sq.ft 20 years ago) the impact is more acutely felt.

Whether it’s the crunch of an apple, colleagues chatting incessantly about Love Island or the radio blaring out 80’s tunes, it appears we all have our bugbears.  Indeed, a recent survey from estate agents Savills found that the proportion of workers saying noise levels were important to them increased to 83 per cent this year - up from 77 per cent in 2016.

Employers, on the other hand, are compelled to address the issue of noise. The Control of Noise Regulations 2005 require employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work.  An unhappy workforce due to poor office acoustics can also be very unproductive. It can lead to employees taking more sick days, which could have a seriously negative affect on business. 

Additionally, it’s not only your employees that poor office acoustics will affect. Your clients can make quick judgements based on sales or customer services teams and if the member of staff they are speaking to is stressed or cannot hear you properly.  It’s probably not the first impression you’d like to get across to your customers.

Office acoustics

YRM Architect's studio with our recycled SonaSpray K-13 Special controlling noise in the workplace.

Sound absorption for offices is vital for successful business

Wellbeing doesn’t stop at grass carpets, beanbags or the introduction of dress down Fridays.  Without adequate acoustic treatment, an office can quickly turn into an unnecessarily stressful environment.  According to Action on Hearing Loss, eight out of ten people reported having left a restaurant, cafe or pub early because of the noise.  Unfortunately, in the workplace, most of us do not have the choice and this can have an effect on our health and wellbeing in the long term.  As a result, there is a growing trend in the architect and interior design community to create workspaces that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also create a welcoming experience for future inhabitants.

Whether it’s for a fit-out, refurbishment or new build, taking office acoustics seriously and removing distractions caused by excess noise will ensure these work spaces sound as good as they look with a welcoming, calm and relaxing atmosphere.  We’re never going to return to everyone having a private office so acoustic absorption in offices, conference rooms or boardrooms where concentration is key, is vital for successful business.  And while we still have a way to go, it appears that we are making progress.

Savills found that 39 per cent of UK workers said their workplace had a positive impact on their mental health (up from 33 per cent in 2016), while 34 per cent said it was good for their physical health (up from 25 per cent in 2016). 

Setting the acoustic agenda

While acoustically treating offices is a hot topic, other workspaces such as factories and warehouses also need to be taken in to consideration. After all, the manufacturing sector accounts for a quarter of our GDP and directly employs 2.6 million people in the UK.  Employees are often working in environments containing heavy machinery or dangerous equipment so reducing noise levels is incredibly important in order to meet Health and Safety requirements.

If a warehouse has not been treated and employees are having to wear ear defenders to block out excess noise caused by machinery, they are less likely to hear instructions, warnings or oncoming machinery, thus increasing the risk of a serious accident.

Effective acoustic control for warehouses, factories or ‘big sheds’ can be made simple and economical by using spray applied acoustic decorative finishes on ceilings and/or walls at high level at a calculated material depth.  These also have the benefit of increasing thermal performance of the building.

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Acoustic treatment for restaurants

SonaSpray fcx throughout HIDE restaurant. Credit to Lusted Green & Andrew Meredith photography.

Reducing noise in the hospitality industry 

When you are eating in a noisy restaurant, or drinking in a busy bar, you speak up in order to be heard by the staff and the people you are with.  The problem is that everyone does this, and before you know it, the venue is uncomfortably loud and it completely spoils the atmosphere and experience.  According to Action on Hearing Loss, 79 per cent of people have experienced difficulty holding a conversation while eating out, while 91 per cent said they would not return to venues where noise levels were too high.  The charity also found that some restaurants in the UK have noise levels above 95 decibels.

Gail Richard, past president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says that exposure to noise levels above 70 and 80 decibels causes hearing loss over time.  And with nearly 3 million of us working in the hospitality sector in the UK, it’s a serious workplace issue.  However there are acoustic solutions out there that can improve the experience for both diners and for staff.

The Evening Standard reports that designers are focusing on techniques such as cushioning the ceiling or using absorbent materials such as cedar, so restaurants can maintain a buzzy atmosphere while enabling clear conversation.  While restaurants such as Ottolenghi’s Nopi or HIDE (pictured above), both near Piccadilly have used a specially designed absorbent plaster-like product on their ceilings to absorb what would be reflected sound.

As a result of tackling the acoustics challenge head on, these restaurants offer a more comfortable dining experience but more importantly are protecting the health and wellbeing of their workers.

Turning down the noise

With the rise in open plan offices and increasingly mechanised production lines/distribution centres, employers are increasingly looking at acoustic design to keep their people safe and increase productivity.  However, there are still companies that are unaware of the dangers that noisy workplaces can have on their employees while also being unaware of the potential impact on their bottom line.

Employers have a legal obligation to protect their workers and could be lining themselves up for potential future claims if they do not take the issue seriously.

We are making progress but there is still a lot of education required.  The more that people are aware of the impacts of excess noise on their workforce, the more likely they will be to shift habits. It’s time to turn down the noise.  

Contact us

For more information regarding our reverberation control range for sound absorption in offices or if you have any questions you can call us direct on 01474 854902 or fill in our contact us form and a member of our friendly team will get back to you as soon as possible.

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