Do you know what a decibel is? You probably have a general idea it measures sound. A decibel measures the intensity of sound. It is similar to measurements we use for earthquakes – each decibel multiplies the last one. This is because the human ear can pick up an amazing range of sound.
Start with silence at zero decibels or dB. A whisper is 15 dB. A normal conversation (normal, not YELLING) is 60 dB. A lawnmower is 90 dB. A car horn is 110 dB – but thank goodness you’re usually not standing right next to it. A firecracker is 140 dB. These are the measurements when you are right next to the source of the sound. Distance reduces decibel measurement. Read more at “How Stuff Works.”
Exposure to any sounds higher than 85 dB can cause hearing loss. Ever been to a loud concert for several hours, and felt like your ears were stuffed with cotton or ringing for a few days after? Eight hours’ worth can cause long-term hearing damage.
But noise can also do damage at lower levels. Research studies by the University of Michigan and others report any prolonged noise level over just 50 dB can cause stress, raise your blood pressure, and even increase your risk of heart attacks. That’s the level of single conversation! A 2011 World Health Organization study found Europeans lost 1.7 million years of healthy living due to noise. We suffer from noise stress.
Now imagine your average office environment, with multiple conversations going on, machines, heating and cooling, music, video, footsteps, even rustling papers. You are exposed to this for hours at a time. Maybe you’re sitting in the middle of one right now. Are you wearing ear buds? Music or podcasts through ear buds can also be at damaging levels for long periods and they don’t prevent the overall health damage.
Long-term studies are just now taking place to measure the health effects of long-term noise pollution. But scientists are worried – they’re starting to compare noise to smoking. Many already believe the impact of secondhand noise will be nearly as bad as the impact of secondhand smoke on your health.
So if noise pollution really turns out to be the new smoking, we need to start thinking more seriously about protecting people from the impact of noise pollution. First, we need to recognize how just a little noise it takes to affect us. You might not think your office is loud, but according to statistics published on the green design website Inhabitat, 97 percent of all Americans have to deal with human-caused noise. Two-thirds report significant levels of noise pollution.
What can we do? First, people need to be educated about the dangers of noise, just like we had to warn people about secondhand smoke, or the risks of sitting for long periods. We hope this blog post will contribute in some small way.
Next, we need to figure out ways to cut down long-term exposure to noise. I got a kick out of reading what the city of Elkhart, Indiana did – it fines people who commit “loud and raucous sounds.” Caravans of bikers roaring through the city and other offenders have paid $1.6 million in fines so far. The city used the money to purchase new police vehicles.
In workplaces, especially with open office plans, employers need to work with architects and interior designer to come up with ways to baffle routine office noise.
They can also work with plantscapers like Good Earth Plant Company. Using office plants, living walls, the creative use of planters and containers and particularly moss walls, we can help solve the office noise problem effectively at a cost-efficient price.
If we can’t convince you for health reasons, how about being more productive? Productivity dives in a noisy workplace. Focus is lost. Workers can be 66 percent less productive when forced to overhear a single nearby conversation. If you are trying to multitask, conversations are even more distracting.
We have frequently talked about ways to improve the open office floorplan’s many flaws. Adding plants, living wall or moss wall partitions, installing planters and other plant-based green elements can all dampen down sound, reducing noise pollution. Visit a densely planted place of any kind, and you’ll quickly see how effective this can be. You probably can’t visit the Olympic National Forest or the Pantanal this weekend, but if you walk through the Botanic Garden in Balboa Park or a forested trail, you’ll notice right away how much ambient noise is stripped away.
Think about conserving ‘sound’ the same way we conserve water and keep our air pollution free. Your health, your productivity, even your livelihood might depend on it.
Call on Good Earth Plant Company if we can help – 858-576-9300. We love to hear the phone ringing – yes, we still answer old-fashioned phone calls! Or a silent email will do to firstname.lastname@example.org