Wed. Sep 30th, 2020

HSSE WORLD

Health, Safety, Security and Environment

Sound Masking in the Office and It’s Benefits

4 min read

Office sound masking is a workplace solution that can increase safety, improve employee morale, and help your business protect private information.

What is Sound Masking?

Sound masking is a system that is engineered to mask human speech. Emitters are installed along with a simple grid pattern with space determined by the ceiling height. These emitters provide a steady stream of pink noise.

What is pink noise?

Takeaway: Sound masking can reduce distractions, protect sensitive information, and lead to a more productive workforce.

Well, you’ve probably heard of white noise. That’s the kind of noise that contains equal energy on every frequency. You know it as the noise generated by fans, radio or television static, and air conditioners. It’s what a lot of people use when they try to create background noise.

Pink noise, on the other hand, is equal energy per octave and is often compared to white noise with the bass turned up. Familiar pink noise includes the waves at the beach, rustling leaves, or steady rain. It is often more enjoyable to listen to in a working environment while still drowning out certain sounds.

(Find out How to Deal with Occupational Noise: Hearing Conservation Basics.)

Why Do You Need Sound Masking?

A workplace sound masking system covers the sound of human speech, which can prevent people from overhearing certain conversations.

This is especially important for industries that have strict confidentiality requirements, such as healthcare, government, law, and finance. For example, a business could install sound masking outside of a conference room located near a reception area.

Is Sound Masking Safe for the Workplace?

While sound masking generates additional noise, it is a completely safe and effective method of reducing noisy distractions and adding an increased layer of privacy and protection.

According to Cambridge Sound Management, “OSHA, FGI, and ASTM are just a few of the organizations that recognize sound masking as a viable, safe technology for reducing speech intelligibility and noise-related distractions, thereby improving acoustic privacy and comfort.”

Sound masking reduces background noise but it does not actually impede the ability to have a conversation. In fact, the reduced background noise makes it easier for workers to hear conversations they’re having more clearly.

Why Sound Masking Is Beneficial for Workplace Safety

1. Increased Noise Protection

It might sound strange that adding noise can help protect employees from noise, but sound masking systems do just that.

Pink noise will reduce noisy distractions like nearby conversations or roadwork outside the office. That will reduce the temptation for employees to fight these nuisances with louder noise by wearing headphones or listening to loud music.

Doing that might help them ignore the sound they want to drown out, but according to Soundguys, “If you do nothing but increase the force applied to your ears, you risk damaging your hearing by something called Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).”

By adding appropriate sound masking measures to the workplace, you are able to reduce the background noise — and thus the need to increase other sounds that can contribute to hearing loss.

2. Fewer Distractions

According to Cambridge Sound Management, “employees can waste as much as 86 minutes per day due to noise distractions.” This loss of focus likely means a loss in production, but it can also have severe safety implications. Distracted workers are prone to errors and accidents. They might also fail to hear important verbal instructions, announcements, or warnings.

3. Promote Employee Wellbeing

Noise levels are a concern in any workplace, and a negative environment can have a variety of effects on employees. “Loud noise can create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communication and concentration, and contribute to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals,” according to OSHA.

4. Protect Sensitive Information

A lot of information is still exchanged through speech. Did you provide your credit card number over the phone? Did the recipient of that information read it back to you? If so, chances are high that others may have heard it as well. This is especially important in offices where there is a lot of open space. In some industries, such as healthcare, protecting customer information is the law.

You may think that casual employee conversations are private, but phones and other devices may pick up what you’re saying in the office. Be mindful that conversations between employees could potentially reach a customer’s ears.

Meetings are meant to be safe spaces for privacy, and sometimes sensitive information is the topic, such as a new product launch, a personnel issue, or a company acquisition. Sound masking helps keep private meetings private.

5. Enhanced Productivity

Noise interrupts employees every 11 minutes and it can take 23 minutes for employees to get back on track. If employees are less distracted, they are more engaged and according to Forbes, “highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability.”

Putting in measures like sound masking also shows that employers value the safety and wellbeing of their workforce, which will likely lead to happier and more productive employees.

Summary

Office sound masking is an important tool with a variety of benefits that can enhance a workplace, such as protecting important information, ensuring privacy, and adding a safe layer of noise protection.

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