Monthly Archives: September 2014

Lab Safety: Is Your Environment Too Noisy?

lab-safety-noiseLabs are busy places. Filled with expensive equipment, all sorts of projects in process, and people to do the work; whether they are graduate students and research assistants to principal investigators, there’s a lot going on in the average lab. All that activity probably means there’s a lot of noise to contend with as well. Machines hum and vibrate, and colleagues converse—or shout to be heard over the din. Not only can these noises distract people from their work, but it also represent a significant lab safety issue.

Why Is Noise a Lab Safety Issue?

Anyone who has spent time at rock concerts or with their iPod volume turned up too high has probably experience the effects that excessive levels of noise can have on hearing. Noise in the workplace can have the same effect, or worse, since workers are usually there every day, not just spending a few hours listening to rock ‘n’ roll. This why there are Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) rules about workplace noise, as well as other elements of lab safety.

Noise also causes miscommunication. If someone in the lab has to shout to be heard over other noises, or the person being addressed is standing next to a noisy piece of equipment and can’t clearly hear or understand the speaker, it can lead to errors—or even lab accidents.

Excessive noise also hampers efficiency in the lab, especially if staff members are taking more workdays off because of the noise. Research has shown that excessive lab noise leads to headaches, earaches, anxiety, and other negative emotional states. In addition to their focus being potentially compromised, staff may also need to take sick time off to address these issues—which will simply resume once they return to work, further decreasing productivity.

What’s Too Noisy?

So how do you know if your lab is too noisy, and what can you do about it?

The human ear is a very sensitive instrument. It can detect amazingly soft sounds that have a power of as little as about 0.000000000001 watt per square meter. The sound threshold that causes pain, by contrast, is around one watt per square meter. The term “decibel,” which is one-tenth of a bel, refers to a logarithmic scale used for measuring the relative loudness of sounds. The baseline, 1 decibel, is a barely detectable sound, with each additional bel doubling the intensity of the sound. (Incidentally, the developer and namesake of this measurement technique was Alexander Graham Bell, whose wife was deaf. “Bell” was eventually shortened to “bel.”)

What this means, practically speaking, is that sounds are measured based on relative terms rather than physical effects. A whisper is around 20 decibels, while a thunderstorm is around 50, and a lawnmower or busy freeway is 85. Eighty-five decibels is the OSHA threshold for damage. However, because of the way sound travels through space, sounds under 85 decibels in one part of a lab may be experienced as significantly higher if the researcher’s lab bench is right next to the machine generating the noise for example.

What Steps Can You Take for Lab Safety?

If you suspect that your lab is too noisy to be safe, the best way to start addressing it is by having noise measurements taken. If you work with a large facility, arrange this with the staff member responsible for environmental health and lab safety. If there is no specialist on staff, there are agencies you can contact to come in and do the measurements.

Once you have the measurement data in hand, you can begin to address the issues. Some things are simple: For example, hold meetings elsewhere whenever possible. Others are more difficult. A mass spectrometer, for instance, is a crucial piece of lab equipment, but its roughing pumps generate a lot of vibration and noise. This is where specially made lab benches are the solution to lab safety. The IonBench is specifically designed to address noise issues, decreasing vacuum pump noise by 75%.

Your lab may be a busy place, but it doesn’t have to be a noisy one. Noise is dangerous in a lab environment, and specifically designed lab furniture can improve lab safety by reducing noise. Contact us today if you have questions or want to learn more about how dedicated lab furniture can improve lab safety and reliability in your laboratory.

Why Your Lab Needs Dedicated Lab Furniture

dedicated-lab-furnitureIf you’re responsible for overseeing the purchase budgets of a laboratory, there’s a good chance you’ve have had conversations about lab furniture. Chances are also high that you’ve been asked to compromise on that furniture, probably because of the high cost of so much else in the laboratory.

However, compromising on lab furniture is not a good idea. There are a number of reasons why buying dedicated laboratory furniture will actually be the best bet in the long run, and not just financially. The quality of your results could also be affected by the quality of your lab furniture.

Lab Furniture Safely Handles Lab Equipment

Let’s take, as an example, lab benches for mass spectrometry. Unless they’ve spent a lot of time outfitting labs, the average accountant probably has no idea how big, heavy and noisy mass spectrometers really are. They might think you could set one on an office desk and it will do just fine, when in fact the vibrations caused by the unit’s vacuum pump during operation can disrupt the mass spectrometer’s baseline. Furthermore, the roughing pumps are very noisy, making worker well-being a concern. So depending on non-dedicated lab furniture creates both a performance and safety issue.

Lab Furniture Helps Organize Lab Equipment

Even if strength were not a consideration, the ability to efficiently organize a workspace is another important aspect to bear in mind when choosing lab benches. Lab space is always at a premium, and there are often computers, printers and other devices that need to be connected with your spectrometers and other chemical instruments. There has to be sufficient space on and in the lab furniture to handle these other devices in an organized and orderly fashion.

Lab Furniture Extends the Life of Lab Equipment

Vibrations aren’t just a safety and performance risk; they’re also dangerous for the equipment. For example, vibrations in a mass spectrometer can negatively affect its internal turbo molecular pumps, but dedicated lab furniture like the IonBench MS is specifically designed to reduce 99 percent of vibrations created by a mass spectrometer. Reducing vibrations increases the life of the spectrometer, as well as any other equipment sitting on, or in, the lab bench. A dedicated lab bench of this type will also decrease vacuum pump noise by 75 percent, making your lab a much more comfortable and healthier place to work, and protecting everyone’s ears.

Decreasing vibrations and noise also increase the life of your lab equipment by decreasing the need for frequent maintenance. This is another good argument to offer when budget-conscious administrators start asking questions.

Lab Furniture Is Different for Each Type of Lab Equipment

Dedicated lab furniture is not just for mass spectrometers. Ultrasonic baths cause loud and annoying vibrations that could be an issue with cheaper metal tables. And since the smallest breath or quiet footstep can affect scales if they are set on standard furniture, solid lab bench is essential for getting accurate measurements.

There are some common misconceptions made, especially by those who don’t actually work in labs. It might be suggested that non-dedicated lab furniture is more flexible should you decide to reorganize the lab later. Unfortunately, this can lead to expensive modifications when the cheaper lab furniture is located where the largest, heaviest, noisiest machine needs to go.

The bottom line is that dedicated laboratory furniture is a wise and appropriate investment in the life and accuracy of your lab equipment, and the safety of your staff and the results they produce. For more information about lab benches for mass spectrometry and other types of specialized lab furniture, contact IonBench today.