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Noise-reducing materials and improved healthcare – why the right acoustic solutions promote good health and stimulates employee efficiency

Healthcare in South Africa is a topic constantly making headlines. But thanks to a less-than-obvious factor – construction materials which reduce noise levels in healthcare facilities – the built environment can help boost the impact of healthcare in South Africa.

According to Lauren Clark, Concept Developer of Saint-Gobain Ecophon South Africa, from 1900 the world has advanced exponentially from a technology perspective. New solutions, often in the form of new machines, gadgets or appliances, create new issues in our tech-heavy society. The incessant noise created by the various mechanical and digital devices is, quite literally, affecting our health.

The effects of noise

The one sector feeling the impact of our collective advancement is the medical profession. Since the 1960’s, studies have shown that ambient noise levels within hospitals have increased. During daytime these levels have risen from 57dB up to 72dB, and during the night, from 42dB to 60dB. This far exceeds the World Health Organization and SANS 10218-1 recommended values of 35dB during the day and 30dB at night in patient rooms, with night time peaks of not more than 40dB. Coupled to this, studies have found that high noise in hospitals and healthcare facilities impairs sleep, increases stress, raises heart rates, and delays post-illness rehabilitation. For staff working in these environments, the effect of increased noise levels has shown that 70% of critical medical errors can be traced back to communication shortcomings.

To lend further credence to the case for better acoustic treatment in clinical settings, recent analysis has shown that when appropriate acoustic dampening methods are employed, the need for additional medication, such as sleeping tablets, falls by 67%, readmissions drop by 56% and cognitive stress in offices is reduced by 11%. The application not only makes medical sense but has financial implications.

“This is especially relevant in South Africa where we cannot afford sub-optimal healthcare outcomes, given how expensive healthcare has become and the dire need to extend quality services to the entire population. Simply put, when patients recover quicker while using less medication, and medical staff can perform at their best, the benefits to the system cannot be overstated,” Clark comments.

In order to address the ever-increasing noise issues, property developers and hospital networks should consider specialised ceiling and wall sound-absorbing product for use in use in hospitals, clinics, stepdown facilities, rehabilitation centres, mental health care centres and facilities that care for elderly and frail people

These products adhere to and exceed the most stringent industry standards.  Saint-Gobain’s ceiling and wall sound-absorbing products are among the most environmentally friendly on the market. Most importantly they all adhere to the highest hygiene standards, are resistant to mould and bacteria, and extremely easy to clean and disinfect.

Source of sound

While the ability to control noise in your environment has become simple with the right products, understanding the source of the sound is the first step towards designing acoustic spaces that contribute to noise reduction. The source of noise is from two distinct categories: airborne and impact.

Airborne is generated by staff talking and moving around, and by noisy equipment and activities. Good design practice dictates the separation of noisy areas from quiet ones for interior layouts. This, however, is not always practical for instance where a busy corridor adjoins a ward. This is where sound transfer can be reduced by interposing one of Saint-Gobain’s high performance acoustic separating sound insulation partitions or ceiling systems and acoustically sealing all perimeters and openings.

The second category, impact sound, is generated by footsteps, falling objects or vibrating equipment which is transmitted through the hard structure of the building. This can affect the space below or run throughout the structure. The level of impact noise can be radically reduced by installing a suspended plasterboard insulated ceiling system to the lower space. When it comes to healthcare spaces, reflected sound can be controlled with suspended sound absorbent acoustic ceilings or wall panels. These are specifically designed to adhere to the rigorous demands of the healthcare environments by providing surfaces that are easily cleaned and disinfected with total resistance to bacteria and mould growth while retaining acoustic performance properties

Clark says while these products should all be specified in the design phase; retrofitting is a viable alternative for existing buildings. “Upgrading healthcare facility interiors is easy.  An acoustic ceiling is always the logical starting point as it reduces noise levels and reverberation time. The next step is adding wall absorbers that prevent unwanted sound reflections and increase speech clarity. This simple change within the sound environment will improve patients’ recovery and ability to sleep soundly, while allowing doctors and nurses to communicate clearly.”

Within the current healthcare environment, there is no question that any steps which can enhance patient wellness or healthcare professional’s productivity should be seriously considered.

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