The amounts of sustained noise people are subjected to in everyday life have reached unsafe levels, according to a new report authored by leading sound experts.
Building in Sound (pdf), developed by Biamp Systems in collaboration with acoustics expert and TED speaker Julian Treasure, reports that everyday noise levels regularly exceed World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended levels.
The study draws clear links between excessive noise and poor acoustics and ill-health, distraction and loss of productivity, even disruption to educational development.
Drawing on a variety of academic, government and industry body sources, the paper has identified the economic and social impacts noise can have on everyday life – whether in a city, at work, in a classroom or hospital.
Examples of the sort of noise levels urban populations are regularly exposed to include:
—An air conditioning unit puts out sounds of 55 decibels. At this level, sleep is impaired and the risk of heart disease increases. Yet an average busy office has been recorded at 65 decibels.
—Street traffic has been recorded at 70 decibels. Regular unprotected exposure to the same level of noise can lead to permanent hearing loss.
—The average noise of a motorway is around 85 decibels, the same point at which U.S. Federal Law mandates hearing protection for prolonged exposure.
The study also looks at solutions to the issues – given that road traffic noise is estimated to cost between 30 and 46 billion Euros a year ($39 and 60 billion USD a year), or 0.4% of GDP in the European Union.
It calls for an integrated approach to acoustic design that incorporates cutting edge sound technology with a more thoughtful approach to architectural design and construction.
Properly executed, managing sound can lead to higher employee productivity and job satisfaction, lower crime rates in urban environments, and increased sales in business.
“Noise is a major threat to our health and productivity – but until now we have been largely unconscious of its effects because of our obsession with how things look,” says Treasure, who is chairman of The Sound Agency. “We need to start designing with our ears, creating buildings and public spaces that sound as good as they look. If we do that, we can transform the productivity and well-being of office workers, patients in hospitals and children in schools, among many others.”
“This isn’t a call for silence, but an appeal to start considering the effects poorly managed sound can have,” adds Graeme Harrison, vice president of marketing at Biamp Systems. “The right sound and acoustics can transform education, healthcare and work, but we have to address the problem now because it’s only going to become more difficult in the future.
“We have the technology and expertise to manage the acoustics of new and existing environments, but now’s the time to act and build in sound.”
Download the pdf report, Building In Sound (pdf), here.