Protect your hospital employees from excessive noise levels

Protect your hospital employees from excessive noise levels

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Mar 01, 1999

By Sarah Nichols, contributing writer, and Elizabeth A. Brown, senior associate editor

Q. In my practice's kennel and grooming areas, staff members can encounter noise levels OSHA calls damaging. To keep noise from invading other areas, I've contained it in these sections. Short of a major redesign, how can I reduce exposure?

A. When controlling noise, veterinarians must use a two-step process, says Wayne Usiak, AIA, principal of Wayne Usiak and Associates/BDA Architecture P.C. in Albuquerque, N.M., and a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member. But the first step of isolating sound within a room causes the second problem--potentially ear-damaging noise. "When trying to prevent sound transmission, doctors use materials that intensify sound," he says. For example, high-mass materials like concrete-block walls and gypsum-board ceilings contain and amplify sound.

To reduce noise, choose proper sound-absorbing materials, says Usiak, who designed Sheridan Animal Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y., Veterinary Economics' 1998 Hospital of the Year. Selecting the right material can be complicated because you also must consider exposure to water, hair, and odor as well as cleaning ease. Usiak suggests a suspended fiberglass-board ceiling with a perforated vinyl face. To prevent rust in high-humidity areas, suspend tiles in an aluminum or fiberglass grid. For walls, mount perforated vinyl-faced, rigid-fiberglass-board acoustic panels at least four feet above the floor.

While sound-absorbing materials reduce noise within the room, they have little effect on noise levels in adjacent areas, says William Copich, AIA, NCARB, principal of Copich & Associates Inc. in Youngstown, Ohio. The designer of Northwood Veterinary Hospital in Anderson, Ind., a 1997 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit Award winner, says veterinarians must consider partitions' sound-transmission-class (STC) values. An STC of 46 to 50 offers great noise prevention. A standard stud-and-drywall partition has an STC of 39, while concrete-block walls provide an STC rating of 46. Filling walls with expanding foam insulation--an easy and cost-effective process in existing facilities--adds eight STC points. And remember hidden areas where sound travels, such as above suspended ceilings, over walls, under doors, and through ductwork.

If you're planning a new facility or remodeling project, Copich suggests a buffer room that separates kennel and hospital areas from public ones. Use this room as a food-prep station, bathing, or storage area, and include viewing windows to check on pets.

March 1999 Veterinary Economics