Lab Safety: Does Your Lab need to Install Noise Warning Signs

Hazardous Materials SignNoise is never good in a laboratory. We’ve discussed on numerous occasions the damage noise can do to hearing and the lab safety concerns brought about by not being able to hear what co-workers are saying. Fortunately, with dedicated lab furniture like the IonBench MS keeping vacuum pump noise at bay, and other noise reducing techniques, lab noise isn’t often above danger levels. But every rule has an exception. When workplace noise exceeds certain levels, warning signs are required to alert workers and visitors of the risks they face and remind the use of safety equipment. Here’s a primer on when signs are needed and what they should say.

When Are Lab Noise Warning Signs Necessary?

Again, severe noise levels aren’t usually encountered in the research lab, and it would be wasteful, and potentially detrimental to your safety efforts, if you were to post signs when you didn’t need them. However, labs are constantly changing, and it’s important to monitor the level of additional noise that’s brought into your lab by each new piece of dedicated lab furniture or equipment—for instance, a fume hood.

OSHA requires posting signs when workers in your lab could potentially encounter sustained noise at the level of 85 dBA or more. As we’ve noted in previous posts, “dBA” stands for a weighted-average decibel level; you can learn more about decibels here.

What Type of Lab Safety Sign Do You Need?

Once you’ve determined your lab or other workplace environment is loud enough to merit the installation of signs, there are two types of signs to consider. A “Caution” sign is required by OSHA for noise levels of 85-100 dBA, while a “Danger” sign is required for noise levels of over 100 dBA. Furthermore, noise exposure above 103 dBA requires a sign that demands double hearing protection.

But you can’t just write “CAUTION” on a large piece of paper, tape it to the wall above the offending machine, and call it good. Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) specify particular colors and symbols that are needed for each lab safety sign, according to ANSI standard Z535.1.

The Caution sign must use a yellow background. The word CAUTION can either be in black letters or be yellow against an inverted black outline, while the explanatory words below are in black on a yellow or white background. Also, the sign must list the reason for caution; in this case, “hearing protection required.”

A Danger sign, on the other hand, must say DANGER using red, white, and black, and must state the reason for the danger, like: “High noise area, ear protection must be worn.”

Where Must the Sign Be Placed?

These signs should not be posted above the machines making the noise. The reasoning here is that by the time a worker sees a sign, their ears are already being damaged.

Instead, all signs must be posted outside the entrance of the lab or workplace where the noise exposure could occur. They can be on the door, or on the periphery of the door, but they should be visible at the entrance, before the door is opened and the noise exposure begins.

Reducing Noise with Dedicated Lab Furniture

No question, lab safety is a complex, dynamic undertaking—especially when dealing with noise—but protecting the ears of all lab workers is worth it. That’s why we suggest you invest in our dedicated lab furniture, which reduces MS vacuum pump decibels by 75%. Request a quote today to learn more.