Turning up the volume on warehouse noise control

The pandemic has altered our shopping habits forever. Convenience, lack of time and the rising cost of fuel means more of us now go online to order our goods – and the British are big spenders. In fact, the UK is the fourth largest e-commerce market in the world and it’s estimated to see an increase of £10 billion (9%) in expected online sales in 2022 .

But as the demand for products increases, so has the floor space needed to store them. Warehouses are now ‘hot property’, employing thousands of people across the country. However, more often than not, they are selected for their geographical advantages rather than the quality of the building. For staff working in these environments, this could present an issue, particularly in terms of acoustic health and exposure to excessive levels of noise – which has the potential to damage health.

Loud and clear: the impact of noise

Warehouses, distribution centres and e-commerce fulfilment centres are known for being noisy environments. Often fast-paced, workers must compete with the sound of machinery such as forklift trucks, conveyor belts and packing stations. To add to this, solid concrete floors and block walls create the ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to intense noise reverberation, allowing sound to bounce and echo. For workers dealing with this on a day-to-day basis, it can have a profound effect, both physically and psychologically, especially over long hours or through shift work.

According to research from the HSE, over one million employees in Great Britain are exposed to levels of noise which put their hearing at risk , whilst 14,000 are estimated to have work-related hearing problems.

Health issues related to exposure and excessive noise can cause other difficulties too, including headaches, elevated blood pressure, fatigue, irritability, digestive disorders and increased susceptibility to colds and other minor infections.

Regulations on sound state that workers shouldn’t be exposed to sound levels above 87dB , yet forklift trucks operate at an average of 90dB . Whilst ear defenders go some way to reducing these risks, they also put staff at risk if they are unable to hear the sound of moving machinery or alarms, presenting a different hazard to health. So, with so many potential risks, what can warehouse managers and owners do to ensure the safety and welfare of staff?

A sound strategy

One of the most effective ways to improve acoustic health, is with the use of specially adapted acoustic sprays. Applied to walls or ceilings, it has the ability to absorb sound energy, instead of reflecting it. It means that in industrial environments, where noise can rise to dangerous levels, reverberation (echo) is significantly reduced, creating a safer and much healthier environment for workers.

Aside from their performance capabilities, acoustic sprays are a popular choice due to the speed at which they can be applied, meaning there’s minimum downtime – crucial for warehouse and logistics businesses where time means money.

Raising the bar

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.

Putting fire safety first

With the ongoing focus on fire safety, it is critical that warehouse owners and managers introduce fire safety measures where possible – including fire rated acoustic solutions. As well as the obvious risks to life, fires can also cause heavy financial losses, particularly if commercial goods are kept in a single location. As such, acoustic sprays that go above and beyond Approved Document B fire requirement (Class 0 to BS476 & B-s1,d0 fire rating) should be prioritised.

It’s important to remember that not all acoustic sprays are created equal and choosing a spray that boasts fire protection credentials should always be chosen over a cheaper, less reliable version – by doing so, warehouse owners will have peace of mind that in the event of an emergency, the acoustic finish would provide little to no smoke and absolutely no droplets, assisting in the safe escape of its occupants.

As the demand for warehouse space increases, it’s likely that more staff will be put at risk due to negligence or lack of knowledge around the issue of noise at work. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we must give acoustic health the attention it deserves and invest in measures that prioritise health and safety. Yes, warehouses are providing much needed employment opportunities but let’s not forget the responsibility we have to ensure workers remain healthy in the years to come.

Photo: SonaSpray K-13 acoustic spray in Ice Arena Wales. Credit to Oscar Acoustics, Kier and Scott Brownrigg ltd.

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