Silencity

The Truth About Noise

Latest Posts

Want a quieter town? Urge local government to “Buy Quiet”

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

These two 5-minute videos from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spell out how business owners can reduce noise-induced hearing loss by creating “Buy Quiet” programs as a first step when purchasing or renting machinery or tools.  The Buy Quiet program “encourages companies to purchase or rent quieter machinery and tools to reduce worker noise exposure” when they first start up or when older machinery and tools are replaced. You can make your town or neighborhood quieter by getting your local government to encourage it’s own departments–as well as area businesses–to Buy Quiet.

Buy Quiet programs originated at NASA, where they were concerned about astronauts who, it turns out, were exposed to excessive and dangerous noise level when they were floating around in space.

But Buy Quiet gradually expanded to other federal agencies, for instance the National Park Service, eventually reaching the CDC, which realized that exposing the public to excessive noise levels from construction, traffic, airports, etc. was actually a dangerous public health problem. At that point, the CDC and other federal agencies began publishing the kind of public education materials linked above and much more.

It’s time for all of us to take the noise problem seriously. Remember, as our chairman Dr. Fink says, “if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!”

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.

London subway noise is excessive

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the London Post reports that loud noise on 37 London Underground routes exceeds 85 dB. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of 85 A-weighted decibel noise exposure to prevent hearing loss. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive recommends posting of warning signs if the noise exceeds 85 decibels. Despite this, Transport for London, the agency that operates London’s subway lines, states that it believes “Health and Safety Executive guidance suggests Tube noise is highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

They’re wrong. If one’s commute is 30 minutes or greater each way, the total daily exposure from subway noise alone exceeds the WHO’s safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. And, of course, the Londoner is undoubtedly exposed to other noise sources, such as loud music in restaurants and shops.

When I visit London, I wear earplugs when taking the Tube. You should, too.

Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Loud restaurant noise drives away people with auditory disorders

Photo credi: Franklin Heijnen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Marcella Bernanrdo, from the Vancouver CityNews, reports that loud restaurant noise is driving away people with hearing loss, because they can’t understand speech in noisy environments.

Ambient noise is a disability rights issue for those with auditory disorders. Right now, both the Canadian and U.S. economies appear strong and restaurants are busy, so no wonder restaurateurs see no need to make restaurants quieter even though restaurant noise is a major complaint even for those with normal hearing.

Given the lack of economic incentive, it will likely require legal action under disability rights law, or local action by dedicated activists demanding ordinances regulating noise, to make restaurants quieter.

I say there is no time like the present–get online, find your local politician, and ask him or her where they stand on noise.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Is a personal noise alert system needed?

Photo credit: Martin Abegglen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Silencity received a comment to my recent blog post about hearing protection asking if a noise alert system could be developed to let people know when they were encountering dangerous noise levels.

There are wall-mounted devices available, but I don’t know of any personal noise warning device, either for occupational use or for the public. Such a device or smartphone app would be nice but I don’t think it’s needed. Why?

For some time I have been ending posts with the line, “If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.” And that advice is why one doesn’t need a noise alert system. If you think a noise is too loud, you’re probably right.

For sure, if a noise hurts your ears, even if it doesn’t bother someone else, it’s too loud for you.  There are clearly variations in sensitivity to noise, but you need to protect your hearing, not someone else’s.

And if a noise exposure causes temporary ringing in the ears or muffling of hearing, that’s a definite sign that the noise was too loud.

For noise levels that aren’t quite that high, a simple and easy rule of thumb is that if you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 70-75 A-weighted decibels.

And that’s why you don’t need a noise warning device. Depending on your belief system, God, Mother Nature, or Darwinian evolution already gave you one!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

New hearing aid promises better results

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Researchers at Columbia University have developed a new hearing aid that claims to tune out distracting voices by reading the wearer’s brain waves. People need a difference between the ambient sound level and the level of speech, called the speech-to-noise or signal-to-noise ratio, both abbreviated SNR,  to be able to understand speech. People with normal hearing need a 3 dB SNR, but those with hearing loss need a 7 dB SNR or even a 15 dB SNR to be able to understand speech.

Older analog hearing aids amplified all sounds, so they didn’t help users understand speech in a noisy environment, because all sounds were amplified. But newer digital hearing aids, with directional and tunable features, claim to have solved this problem.

I haven’t seen studies of this in peer-reviewed journals, only claims from the manufacturers. Hearing aid users have told me the costly digital hearing aids are better, but still nowhere near as good as normal hearing.

If the new hearing aids discussed in the report linked above become available commercially, they are likely to cost even more than the latest digital hearing aids, which can cost up to $8,000 for a pair.

Here’s a thought: Instead of requiring people with hearing loss to drop $8,000 for the privilege of understanding speech in public spaces, why not make restaurants and stores quieter? That would make everyone more comfortable in the space, and would help everyone understand speech.

And the simplest way of making a restaurant or store costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified background music!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

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

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Healthcare Acoustics Project (HAP, a division of Quiet Communities Inc.), 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 and the American Institute of Architects. He is 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 publication “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.

New NIDCD Director announced

Photo credit: Debara L. Tucci, M.D., M.S., M.B.A. courtesy of the National Institutes of Health

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This blog post from the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association contains an interview with the incoming Director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), Dr. Debara Tucci.  We hope that prevention of hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis will be among Dr. Tucci’s priorities for NIDCD.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Restaurant servers and bartenders warned about noise

Photo credit: Daria Sannikova from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Tricity News reports that the Canadian provincial equivalent of a state occupational safety and health organization in the U.S., WorkSafe BC, just issued a warning on noise to restaurant servers and bartenders. Specifically, WorkSafe BC warned that “[h]earing loss in the workplace can be just as damaging in the service industry as it is in heavy industrial settings.”

Patrons are only in a restaurant or bar for an hour or two, but the workers may be there for an 8-hour shift, and often the noise exposure is loud enough for a long enough period to damage hearing. No surprise then that WorkSafe BC issued the warning. One wonders what it would take for OSHA–or a state or local government health agency–to act to protect the hearing of service industry workers.

Additional information is available on the WorkSafe BC website.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Hospital noise still a problem? What’s being done?

This photo has been released into the public domain by its author, Tomasz Sienicki

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

This news story asserts that noise in hospitals is steadily increasing. In fact, the trend is actually the other way: for over a decade now, hospitals have been struggling to get this problem under control. And the Affordable Care Act is helping.

How? ACA includes something called the HCAHPS—patient-centered care survey that hospitals are required to send out to every patient within a few days of a hospital stay, and results of this survey are available to the public. The HCAHPS survey is a short one, about 20 questions, including one called the “noise-at-night question” that asks former patients whether their room quiet at night.

Guess what? That question gets the WORST response every time! That’s been an eye-opener for the people who run hospitals–their boards of directors–because before ACA and HCAHPS nobody really cared what patients thought. Now hospitals’ federal reimbursements are linked to their HCAHPS scores. So a big wake-up call went down from hospital board rooms to the clinical staffs—“fix the noise problems, we can’t afford negative patient reviews because they reduce our hospital’s profit margins!”

But what can they do to fix the noise problems? Lots. I’m proud to say that I lead a U.S. national group that has been working on the hospital noise problem since 2005–that’s 15 years–called the Healthcare Acoustics Project, an independent, all-volunteer community of professionals that develops national and international codes and standards for the health care industry. HAP published the first “comprehensive national criteria for noise control in American hospitals and healthcare facilities” in 2010, and we’ve been steadily improving those criteria ever since. Now they’re embedded in the building codes in most of the U.S. and administered by each state’s building code authorities.

So next time you or a loved one is hospitalized, take a close look and a careful listen to noise and privacy levels in their sleeping quarters. If it’s noisy, COMPLAIN LOUDLY and mention that you know about the HCAHPS survey.

We’re pretty certain you’ll get a response pretty quickly. Because patients now have an effective voice thanks to the patient-centered care movement!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Healthcare Acoustics Project (HAP, a division of Quiet Communities Inc.), 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 and the American Institute of Architects. He is 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 publication “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.

Increasing urban noise affecting Dublin

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from the Dublin Inquirer reports that noise levels have doubled there in the past four years. The Quiet Coalition’s Rick Neitzel, on the faculty of the University of Michigan, is cited in the piece. His work showed that noise levels in New York City are high enough to cause hearing loss. This is also true in other large cities.

Some urban noise is a necessary concomitant of modern life.  But cities can be made quieter.

As the article states, most urban noise comes from traffic. Enforcement of muffler regulations, appropriate combinations of tire and pavement materials, elimination of horn-based alerts, and enforcement of laws against horn use except to prevent an accident are all options to make cities quieter, as are more trees and bushes to help absorb and block road traffic noise.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.