Loud and clear: Why acoustic management needs to be considered as warehouse floor space proliferates

The meteoric rise in online shopping is having a huge impact on the logistics industry. Lockdown measures have changed shopping habits forever and next day delivery services have made online purchasing even more convenient. It means that e-commerce now accounts for one in every four pounds spent in the retail sector and it’s sent the demand for warehouse space soaring. The result is that storage is now big business and companies are investing heavily in warehouse space in order to meet customer demand.

But whilst this spells great news for the economy, creating a surge of new jobs, is enough being done to consider the health and welfare of warehouse staff – particularly in terms of acoustic health and exposure to excessive levels of noise?

The impact of noise at work

It will come as no surprise that warehouses, distribution centres and e-commerce fulfilment centres are intrinsically loud places. Moving forklift trucks, the hum of conveyor belts and other mechanical parts can be overwhelming. Warehouses are often under insulated and concrete block walls and floors simply allow sound to bounce and reverberate, making them even lounder.

This combination can have a significant impact on productivity for industrial workers and it can affect their health and safety, both physically and psychologically. Research from the HSE has shown some 17,000 people in the UK suffer deafness, ringing in the ears or other ear conditions caused by excessive noise at work. Health problems related to exposure and excessive noise can cause other health problems too, including headaches, elevated blood pressure, fatigue, irritability, digestive disorders and an increased susceptibility to colds and other minor infections.[1]

One of the worst culprits for generating excessive noise are forklift trucks and pallet trucks, which can reach in excess of 85dB (the level at which employers must provide hearing protection). Although surrounding workers may only have sporadic or intermit exposure, for drivers it can mean regular high noise exposure and this presents a serious problem.  

What is a legal level of noise?

The Control of Noise Regulations offers some useful guidance on assessing warehouse sound. These are split into two main areas; the levels of exposure to noise that employees average over a working day or week, and the maximum (peak sound pressure) which employees are exposed to in a working day.

The exposure limit values which shouldn’t be exceeded are a daily or weekly exposure of 87dB and a peak sound pressure of 140dB[2]. Of course, noise sensitivity differs from one individual to the next, but experts believe that damage to hearing occurs when noise levels are higher than 85 decibels, which is the equivalent to the sound of heavy traffic. This means it’s vital for warehouse managers and owners to take noise control seriously.

Tackling sound reverberation             

In order to have a safer, healthier workforce, warehouse management should be looking at ways of tackling sound echo and noise reverberation. Whilst ear defenders go some way to protecting staff against excessive noise exposure, in a busy warehouse setting they also prevent the ability to hear other important sounds, such as alarms or words of warning from other workers. Moving vehicles are a necessary part of the logistical chain so solutions that can reduce noise without putting members of staff at risk are what’s needed.

One of the main ways to do this is through specially adapted acoustic sprays. Chosen for their ability to absorb sound energy instead of reflecting it, acoustic sprays are commercially unbeatable when addressing industrial noise problems. They can be quickly and effectively applied to most prepared surfaces and construction configurations, which allows minimum working down time in existing structures and the ability to meet critical deadlines in new construction. 

Raising health and safety standards

Acoustic sprays are not just effective in reducing echo and noise control within a facility. A premium spray will also contribute towards many sustainable design and health certification systems including BREEAM, SKA, Living Building Challenge and adds up to 17 points towards the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating of a project. Before investing in a spray however, it’s important to establish if it is GREENGUARD Gold Certified compliance for Indoor Air Quality as this will mean it meets the highest welfare standards.

Fire safety should also be a top priority when considering the right acoustic solution. As well as presenting significant risks to staff, a fire breakout can also be devastating due to the amount of commercial goods kept in a single location. Acoustic sprays that go above and beyond Approved Document B fire requirement (Class 0 to BS476 & B-s1, d0 fire rating), will give warehouse owners peace of mind that workers will remain safe should the eventuality occur.

Making a sustainable choice

In a sector where environmental impact is paramount and sustainable practices are scrutinised, seamless M1 certified Low Emitting acoustic sprays should be the only option. Containing renewable natural resources such as cellulose, wood, and cotton it effectively lowers the carbon footprint of the building project by sequestering rich stores of carbon for the lifecycle of the structure. A quality spray will also consist of recycled, natural plant-fibres and specialist water-based adhesives, again helping to reduce to overall carbon footprint of a structure.

With so much to think about, it’s imperative that noise control is taken seriously as the demand for warehouse space increases. For those that invest, staff will be happier, more productive and able to properly socially distance as workers can be heard without shouting or getting too close. The future of warehouses is looking bright but we shouldn’t forget the welfare of staff who keep our parcels moving, night and day.

Photo: SonaSpray K-13 acoustic spray in HV Wooding Factory. Credit to Oscar Acoustics

[1] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/workplace-safety-noise-pollutio

[2] https://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/regulations.htm

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