How to effectively deal with noise pollution

16:41 | 10/10/2019
With Vietnam’s fast growing economy, it is hard to keep track of all the changes, and an often overlooked element that accompanies rapid development is noise pollution. According to Vietnam’s Institute of Occupational Health and Environment, up to 15 million workers in Vietnam face noise pollution every day. With more than 30 years of experience in this field, Jean-Philippe Delhom, CEO and founder of Delhom Acoustique, shares some of this experience on the harms of noise pollution at work, the solutions, and the benefits that come with an acoustically comfortable environment.  
how to effectively deal with noise pollution

As more and more companies are relocating their manufacturing processes to Vietnam, it is important to understand which elements are key to improved wellbeing at work. The reason why each country has a regulation on noise levels in workspaces is because noise has a direct impact not only on productivity but also on mental and physical health. Unfortunately, an important number of factories today still exceed noise standards in their workshops.

how to effectively deal with noise pollution
Jean-Philippe Delhom, CEO and founder of Delhom Acoustique

Studies show that constantly being exposed to noise during a shift every day can lead to headaches or migraines, permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, cardiovascular health problems, and more. According to Ho Chi Minh City Department of Science and Technology, if we look at Vietnam alone, one out of eight workers suffers from total hearing loss, while one out of four companies is exceeding noise levels suggested in the standards.

Besides factory workshops, offices are also a target of noise pollution. A study from the University of Sydney found that office workers lose around 86 minutes a day of productivity due to noise distractions. In addition to productivity loss, wellbeing and comfort are also at stake. As noise stresses, demotivates, and increases sick leave, the World Health Organization calculated a financial cost of $52 billion in Europe per year due to lost working days, healthcare costs, impaired learning, and reduced productivity that comes from exceeding noise levels.

Acoustic comfort

In Vietnam, not unlike other countries in the world, one of the key issues is that acoustics is thought as an extra element that can be added at the end of a project if noise issues are encountered. Approaching acoustics in that way already presents a few problems such as costs and design constraints. Some noise issues cannot be corrected because it is too late and thus too expensive.

The easiest way to make sure that a project will not experience noise issues is to plan ahead. At the start of a project an acoustic study should define tailor-made acoustic objectives and can avoid many unnecessary costs linked to retrofit. It can be done by choosing the right materials from the start, and forecasting how the acoustic environment in a future facility will be.

Additionally, it is crucial to acknowledge that acoustic issues can come from a large range of frequencies. Each solution has its own acoustic performances: some perform better in low frequencies, while other products act better in middle or high frequencies. When choosing an absorbent product, make sure that the product targets the right frequency for your problem.

how to effectively deal with noise pollution

Acoustic test reports can show that an acoustic product may only perform well for middle to high frequencies (see graph).

So in order to implement acoustic comfort in your building, you have to ensure that the products installed are the ones corresponding to the issues that you are experiencing.

Acoustics is a delicate science – it is easy to do well, just as it is easy to do wrong. The recommended process starts with a specialised study, which will analyse the problems and frequencies and then define a tailor-made solution, through calculations and simulations.

Think of it in this way. When you are sick you first go to a doctor – you describe your symptoms, the doctor analyses them, and then tells you what medicine to take in order to be cured. The sickness is the acoustic problem you are experiencing, the doctor is the acoustic consultant, and the medicine is the materials that you have to install.

In one factory canteen, installing an acoustic ceiling could not reduce noise. After conducting an acoustic study, it was revealed that the ceiling they used absorbed very well in the low frequencies, but the acoustic problem in the canteen came from middle and high frequencies. This is an example of an acoustic product that is not adequate to the acoustic problem: once the right product was selected and installed, the acoustic objectives in the canteen were reached.

Radiall is a French electronics manufacturing firm, and part of their values is good employee quality of life. Its new factory in Shanghai boasts top quality facilities in terms of employee wellbeing and technology. By going through an acoustic study from the beginning of the project, Radiall manages to respect local noise regulations in the workplace by focusing on low frequency issues during early stages. This improved employee productivity, and wellbeing in the building as well as in the neighbourhood.

IKEA, meanwhile, wants to offer quality for its staff and customers too. It chose the BREEAM green-building certification with acoustic credits, and by including acoustic design from the beginning of its projects, it manages to achieve the certification in a cost-effective way without changing the initial design. The acoustic credits in a green-building certification are usually found under the Indoor Environment Quality category.

The future of noise

Looking forward into Vietnam’s development, industry and offices are indeed growing, but so are other sectors such as education and hospitality. These are also industries that suffer from noise, which impacts customer experience or students’ learning environment. Town planning, smart cities, and urban and infrastructure development can all get rid of noise pollution even before it starts in order to improve the general wellbeing of inhabitants.

There are already clear noise regulations in Vietnam, and it can be simple to be compliant. In order to change this noisy environment for the better, it could be wise to implement stricter audits, noise measurement interventions, and follow-ups. So, next time you feel like it is too noisy, do not forget that there is definitely something that can be done about it.

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