Design

Finally, restaurateurs think about how noise affects taste

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

Betsy Andrews, SevenFiftyDaily, reports on “[n]ew research [that] is causing restaurant and bar owners to rethink noise control in their venues.” Andrews writes about Jim Meehan, a forward thinking bar owner, who “wanted a place where he could hear.” So Meehan hired Scott McNiece, the founder of the Chicago-based company Uncanned Music, who designs acoustics for restaurants.

The result was a space where “[t]he muted sound helps patrons relax and focus, not only on their companions but on Meehan’s cocktails.”  Meehan is pleased as is his business partner, Kevin Heisner, who believes noise “dings not just moods but palates.”  And Andrews dives into the world of the science of dining, introducing us to the researchers who are discovering that noise does affect taste.

But the most exciting bit of news from the piece comes at the end, when Andrews speaks to Dallas architect Rick Carrell, whose firm has designed spaces for large chain clients like Panera Bread and Starbucks. Carrell tells Andrews that, “[c]lients are very concerned with noise now. They don’t see it as a motivator like they did 10 years ago.”

Thank goodness.  It’s about time.

Click the link above to read the entire article.

Fresh thinking about quiet, space-saving urban transportation

Introducing the URB-E

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

By now we’ve all seen battery-powered Segways, battery-powered bicycles, and battery-powered motorcycles—awkward, cumbersome, big, heavy commuter vehicles that have enough power to get you from home to the train station or bus stop. Then what do you do with it? Granted they take less space than cars and don’t spew exhaust fumes, but their bulk and weight is a problem.

Now comes URB-E, a cleverly designed, small-scale, apparently foldable electric scooter that you can take right onto the bus or train with you. Brilliant! Kudos to the designers in Pasdena who thought this up. Can’t wait to see them on the roads and campuses around here when spring rolls around. Looks like fun.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

An interesting report on access + ability

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Access + Ability is the name of an exhibit open now at the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New York City.

This column in the New York Times discusses some of the many issues involved in designing products and increasingly apps to assist those with disabilities.

The author doesn’t mention one such app which I think will be a great help to those of us with auditory disorders–hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis–namely, Greg Scott’s free SoundPrint app, which allows measurement of sound levels in restaurants and bars and then posting this information for that specific restaurant or bar on a publicly accessible site.

I think it’s great that people with disabilities are being helped both by laws requiring modifications to make public places accessible to them, and now by new technologies. But it’s better to avoid a disability if one can. Driving safely in a safety-rated vehicle and wearing a seat belt is one way of reducing the likelihood of serious physical injury from a motor vehicle crash. Avoiding loud noise and wearing hearing protection reduces the danger of noise-induced hearing loss, the most common type of hearing loss.

Protect your ears. Like your eyes and knees, God only gave you two of them!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Are we placing people with hearing loss at the heart of the design process?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

That’s the question asked in this report from the UK publication Planning & Building Control Today.

And the answer? In a word, “No.”

The needs of those with auditory disorders–hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis–and other conditions such as dementia, autism, attention disorders, and neurocognitive disorders, are not considered in most building projects.

Acoustic consultants are only called in afterwards, when a problem becomes apparent, if at all.

In the U.S., the Facilities Guidance Institute does provide some criteria for acoustic issues in health care facilities but much more needs to be done, in restaurants, malls, retail stores, and transportation hubs, for those with auditory and other problems affected by ambient noise.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

And now for a musical interlude, courtesy of Benjamin Franklin

Because yes, along with being know for being “a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, composer, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat,” Benjamin Franklin also invented the Glass Armonica. It was popular instrument in its day, so why did it fall into disfavor?  Because “there really wasn’t any way to make the armonica louder. Concert reviews from the period bemoan the fact that the armonica sounded wonderful—when it could be heard. So, alas, Franklin’s marvelous invention was ultimately abandoned.”

 

 

Too loud: noisy toys can damage a child’s hearing

Photo credit: Terence Ong licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, the Quiet Coalition

This report from a Phoenix, Arizona television station mentions children’s toys that are so loud they can damage hearing. Noise level is an important thing for parents, grandparents, and aunts, uncles, and friends to think about during the holiday season and all year long.

The only thing I disagree with in the report is the statement, “[t]he maximum sound level a child should be exposed to is 85 decibels.” I don’t think there is any scientific basis for this statement. The National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states, “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” But the NIDCD fails to give a time limit.

As I wrote in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, 70 decibels time weighted average for 24 hours is the only evidence based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. My blog post for the American Journal of Public Health further explained why the real safe noise exposure level is likely to be lower.

The 85 decibel standard comes from the occupational noise exposure level, which is 85 A-weighted decibels. It isn’t a safe noise exposure standard without a time limit, and it doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

If you are unsure whether the noise level is safe, either get a sound meter app for your smart phone or follow this simple rule: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud! If you can’t converse easily over a sound, it’s above 75 A-weighted decibels, which is the Auditory Injury Threshold, and hearing damage is occurring.

Children rely on us to protect them from many things, and noise exposure is one them.  So this holiday season, do a little research before you buy to make sure you are getting the children in your life fun and safe toys.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Alarming: No end to hospital noise

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Three years ago, the voluntary hospital accreditation body in the U.S. known as The Joint Commission issued a “National Patient Safety Goal” about the problem of “alarm fatigue” in American hospitals.  When the Joint Commission speaks, hospitals usually listen because their ability to participate in the Medicare program depends on the Commission’s approval. So what’s happened?

In a word: nothing. Last week, in a paper presented at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in New Orleans, the distinguished researcher and former ASA president Eileen Busch-Vishniac spoke about this continuing failure to address patient safety in hospitals.

What’s alarming about this situation is that 11 years ago Dr. Busch-Vishniac, when she was Dean of Johns Hopkins’ School of Engineering, published a nationally recognized paper on this very problem, a paper that has become a classic in her own field. Furthermore, in 2011 she was recognized for this work and invited by the Food and Drug Administration, the Joint Commission, and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation to speak to national leaders of the healthcare profession about this problem at the first national meeting convened to focus on the problem of “alarm fatigue.” Thereafter Dr. Busch-Vishniac has continue to write and speak about the subject, for instance in this piece last year.

Noise in hospitals—of which “alarm fatigue” is the most egregious example—is a problem precisely because it endangers the health and even the survival of the thousands of people whose health is already severely compromised (they are hospitalized, after all). It’s critically important.

What this deplorable situation illuminates is the long-standing refusal of federal, state and local agencies in America to recognize that noise is, as one prominent medical authority stated, “much more than a nuisance.” Indeed, it is a serious public health problem. Why can’t the most “at risk” population in America—people hospitalized for their illnesses—have access to the peace and quiet they need to recover? If you are bothered by noise—from aircraft, or from motorcycles, or from leaf blowers or from any other source—keep in mind that you are not alone: even the sickest among us who are being treated in hospitals cannot escape the din.

Nobody is listening—yet—despite the evidence. In the meantime, we congratulate courageous and stubborn researchers like Dr. Busch-Vishniac who continue to push for change.  We need you, Dr. Busch-Vishniac. The money to fund research is hard to come by, but please don’t give up!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The battle between wind power v. wind noise

Vermont is cracking down on noisy wind turbines. But at what cost? Boston.com writes about how the effort by Vermont utility regulators to settle the “long-standing, contentious issue of how much noise neighbors of industrial wind projects should be subject to ended up upsetting both proponents of wind power and those who say the noise poses a health risk to people who live near turbines.”

We love the idea of fossil fuel-free energy, and on seeing a group of large wind turbines from a distance, we thought they looked majestic. But some industrial wind farms have been built very close to existing communities, and opponents of these farms claim the noise levels are too high and “even at a level that is among the lowest in the country would create an unreasonable burden for people who live near the turbines.”

What is that level? For new projects the daytime limit is 42 decibels “near a home,” and 39 decibels at night.  That may seem really low, but the World Health Organization in its report, “Night Noise Guidelines for Europe,” recommends that 40 decibels “should be the target of the night noise guideline (NNG) to protect the public.”

Proponents of the new limits say Vermont won’t meet its goal of “getting 90 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2050” without wind turbines, and Boston.com adds that “scientific studies have shown no link between wind turbine noise and human health.” But there have been complaints throughout New England, perhaps because the people affected “were accustomed to living in quiet areas.”

In the end, the battle will go on as the need for clean energy runs up against the rights of people living in formerly quiet communities.  Let’s hope a happy compromise can be found.