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What’s the Noise Level of a Typical Office? (Decibel Guide)

interior of a busy office

While office noise hardly impairs a worker’s health, it can significantly reduce a company’s productivity. Even at a lower level, undesirable sounds can impair communication and concentration.

A typical office is a large, open area with employees working from their respective workstations. Given the number of noise sources in the office (including conversations, ringtones on mobile phones, and noises from equipment like photocopiers and printers), noise exposure guidelines are put into place to prevent exposure to high-volume sound, which may cause hearing damage in excess.

Typically, the guidelines state the maximum exposure time allowed for various decibel levels. Most offices have sound levels between 45 and 60 dB, which is way below the threshold for potential hearing impairment.

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How Loud Is Too Loud in an Office Setting?

When assessing sound to determine safe levels, there are two factors to take into account: the decibel (dB) level and time of exposure.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) has established the limit for an 8-hour day at 90 dB. Although it isn’t perfect, it is acceptable. The main issues start when you exceed 90. According to OSHA, your exposure time should be reduced to half for every 5 dB rise. This means you should limit your exposure to at most 4 hours at 95 dB.

The following table suggested noise exposure limits based on the number of hours of exposure.

office filled with employees working on their laptops
Image By: Alex Kotliarskyi, Unsplash
Hours Exposed  Sound Level (dB)
       8                    90
       6                    92
       4                    95
       3                    97
       2                    100
      1.5                    102
      1                    105
      0.5                     110
     0.25 or less                     115

After going through the table, do you really know how loud 95 dB is? Well, to put the figures into context, 95 dB sounds like a working jackhammer that is only 50 feet away, while 115 dB is like being inside a rock concert hall.

Understanding Decibels and How Ears Perceive Sound

There are numerous sound intensities (loudness). For instance, shouting at someone instead of whispering increases the intensity of your voice since it has more power. To determine how much sound ears perceive, the intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB).

The decibel scale is a logarithmic scale, which is different from a normal scale. This means that a slight increase in decibel level corresponds to a significant increase in noise level.

Your ears will alert you to a doubling of volume if a sound is raised by 3 dB at any volume. Similarly, if the sound is lowered by 3 dB, your ears will perceive it as a 50% reduction in volume. As a result, a 3 dB rise from 90 dB to 93 dB indicates a twofold increase in noise volume. Nevertheless, a 10 dB rise at any level (say, from 80 dB to 90 dB) indicates a tenfold increase in noise intensity.

man hearing something
Image By: Luis Molinero, Shutterstock

Can You Measure Sound Level in an Office?

An efficient approach to assess the level of noise in an office is with a sound meter. Unfortunately, getting the meters and the qualified staff to use them might be challenging. However, you can use a quick and straightforward approach to determine if your office has a noise issue.

Nowadays, there are many decibel meter apps for smartphones that make it easy to ascertain the amount of noise around us. As you choose to protect your hearing, consider these applications to assess the noise levels around you and determine how loud something is while you make informed hearing protection decisions.

How Do You Reduce Noise Pollution in the Office?

After you’ve measured the noise levels in your office and found them harmful, the next stage is to create a plan to reduce that risk. Here are the areas that you need to take into account:

Machine Maintenance

Ensuring that every piece of equipment being utilized is adequately maintained is the most efficient and cost-effective engineering control used to eliminate industrial noise hazards.

Machinery with metal-on-metal rotating mechanisms, such as bearings, should be greased regularly. This kind of preventative maintenance can increase the lifespan of your equipment and reduce downtime due to unforeseen problems. With adequate equipment maintenance, low-level noise risks are frequently entirely eliminated.

air condition unit repair
Image Credit: Elnur, Shutterstock

Embrace Noise Friendly Flooring

Due to the extreme noise pollution they produce, hard flooring surfaces like ceramic, porcelain, and concrete can cause havoc in your work environment. While carpets are a decent noise-canceling flooring option, engineered luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and hardwood flooring are adaptable substitutes thanks to their wide range of design possibilities and ease of maintenance.

LVT flooring itself boasts sound-absorbing properties, but adding the right amount of rubber underlayment can increase IIC (Impact Insulation Class) value. IIC measures the ability of a floor or ceiling to block structure-based noise. It ranges from 25 to 65, with the latter being heavily insulated floors.

Control Background Noise

A proven noise reduction method in open workplace settings involves fighting noise with noise. It may seem counterintuitive, but playing ambient noise (white noise) in the background at a steady volume has been shown to effectively hide undesirable sounds. Rainfall and the sound of waves crashing on a beach are examples of healthy background noise.

Protective Gear

Protective gear like ear muffs and ear plugs are easy-to-implement safety measures everyone should adopt in their workplaces if noise levels are incredibly high.

man wearing ear muffs
Image Credit: Virrage Images, Shutterstock

Choosing the Right Office Furniture

Modern workplace designs trend more toward minimalism, with exposed ceilings and bare floors. And even though this does produce a clean appearance, there is no sound absorption.

Fortunately, sound-absorbing office furniture is becoming more widely available as more open, flexible work settings gain popularity. These items, sometimes known as acoustic furniture, are built with particular proportions and materials intended to lessen workplace noise.

An informal gathering spot for staff members can be made using acoustic furnishings.

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Employees produce optimally when the noise level is kept below 85 dB. While in a normal office setting, especially in cities, it can be difficult to maintain low noise levels due to external sources, there are efficient ways to achieve it. Choose the right furniture, repair and maintain machines, let employees use protective gear when needed, and work together on reducing noise pollution.

Featured Image Credit: Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock


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