Keeping the noise down

How good acoustics are vital in healthcare settings

Hospitals are by their very nature noisy places. But a quiet environment is crucial to the patient experience, helping to enhance health and wellbeing. In this feature we look at the role acoustic surfaces play in mitigating noise disturbance in healthcare settings

To get the best-possible conditions for working, learning and healing, good room acoustics is a key consideration.

But, to achieve this, estates and facilities managers, and construction companies and architects, need to understand how noise works and the challenges of mitigating this using modern technologies.

The Department of Health’s Specialist Services Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) 08-01: Acoustics offers advice and guidance on measuring noise levels, predicting future problems, and how to address the issue, both during construction of a healthcare building and once it is in use.

It states: “Acoustic design is fundamental to the quality of healthcare buildings as sound affects us both physiologically and psychologically.

“Noise can increase heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate and even blood cholesterol levels. Pleasant sounds help create a sense of wellbeing while music can be used to treat depression, to reach autistic people, and to calm and relax tense patients.

“Good acoustic design also brings other benefits in terms of patient and staff comfort and morale, as well as improved efficiency and usability of equipment.”

International research has shown that high sound levels cause stress among hospital staff and patients. Luckily, this negative trend can be reversed

The document advises trusts to appoint or use the services of a specialist advisor who will take a holistic approach to the acoustic design of any development, whether new-build or refurbishment. Appropriate sound insulation parameters then need to be set for each room, taking into account noise from adjoining areas and the need to maintain the privacy and dignity of patient conversations.

Particular considerations for estates and facilities professionals include:

  • Consider whether doors that swing both ways can accommodate effective acoustic seals
  • Consult infection control teams to ascertain any conflict between the need for seals and cleaning regimes
  • Consider using up-and-over duct links above ceilings instead of having gaps under doors
  • Acoustically-effective seals on meeting stiles need to be either ‘wiper blade’ or compression seals. With some seals, the door may need an opening force that is not consistent with accessibility regulations. Power-assisted doors may be required if these needs cannot be reconciled
  • Compression seals require a rebate on the door and thus a door co-ordinator device, which may cause operational difficulties
  • The most appropriate type of threshold seals are likely to be drop-down or wiper-blade seals, which would mean that doors need appropriate hinges, because a raised threshold strip fitted to the floor is likely to cause serious operational difficulties

This is where manufacturers are helping. There is now a huge range of noise-beating surface solutions available that are proving crucial in enhancing and maintaining the patient environment.

From flooring, wall coverings and ceilings, to windows, doors and partitions; companies are finding new materials and production methods aimed at damping down noise from activity and machinery within the sector.

Andy Holler of Ecophon, a developer of acoustic products and systems, said: “International research has shown that high sound levels cause stress among hospital staff and patients. Luckily, this negative trend can be reversed.

“With tailored acoustic solutions that are adapted to the specific room type needs, stress is decreased among staff and patients. Also, patients sleep better and make a more-complete recovery before being discharged. This lowers readmission rates and therefore has a positive impact on hospital economics.”

Examples of where specialist acoustic surfaces can be used to best effect include patient rooms, which are often sparsely furnished and as such reflected sound bouncing off the walls can make speech harder to understand.

In this case ceilings, flooring and other surfaces with a high sound absorption level should be specified. In corridors surfaces should have both a high absorption rating - Class A - and be efficient in reducing sound propagation, measured as having an ‘AC’ rating of at least 180. The more surfaces with sound absorption or diffusion qualities, the better the outcome will be.

There is a growing understanding within the healthcare sector of how acoustic control can significantly improve the recovery and wellbeing of healthcare patients

Ecophon’s Focus, Hygiene, Solo, Master and Akusto ceiling ranges are all widely used within the healthcare sector. British Gypsum has also recently launched a new acoustic range especially for healthcare settings.

The Eurocoustic range of five products offers medical providers Class A sound absorption, as well as being easy to clean.

John Newbury, senior product manager at British Gypsum, said: “There is a growing understanding within the healthcare sector of how acoustic control can significantly improve the recovery and wellbeing of healthcare patients.

“The fact that these products carry such high performance in terms of acoustics means that they are suitable for even the most challenging of environments.”

Acoustic healthcare ranges are increasingly coming onto the market as suppliers recognise the very-specific needs of the sector, with ranges also available from suppliers including Kawneer, Senior Architectural Systems, Forbo Flooring, Divisions, Flowcrete, and Nora.

A spokesman for Nora said: “Rubber flooring reduces footfall sound or noise which is transferred throughout medical labs or clinic facilities via slabs, walls or material strips, especially from individuals walking through adjoining corridors or hallways. Noise level is reduced by up to 75%.

“Our noraplan acoustic floor coverings means noise generated is significantly lower, no matter what footwear is involved. Compared with conventional hard floor coverings, our products create superior room acoustics that are resistant to other forms of noise. That means quieter, friendlier interiors.”

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