- Samantha Hathway
Why Do We Need Acoustic Consultants?
Acoustical Consultants are essential contributors to the design and development of the environment we live in. They work across a broad spectrum of business sectors: from construction of offices, homes, schools and hospitals to entertainment venues such as cinemas and restaurants. These specialists also play a pivotal role in the design of airports and road networks. However, their remit isn’t only to mitigate sound levels; they’re also vital for engineering positive sound, in concert halls and music venues.
Why do we need to regulate sound?
It’s long been known that being exposed to elevated noise in the workplace can have a detrimental effect on hearing, but exposure to long periods of high noise levels in the workplace or even at home can also harm overall health and wellbeing.
How hearing is impacted
Loud noise can damage the sensory cells in the inner ear. This area, known as the cochlea, is essential for converting sound vibrations to electric signals that then travel to the auditory cortex.
When the sensory cells of the inner ear become damaged or destroyed, it impairs hearing, leading to tinnitus and hearing loss. Hearing loss is permanent, so it’s imperative that exposure to damaging noise levels is limited or prevented completely.
Hearing damage due to exposure can happen at any age, and prolonged exposure at lower decibel levels can be as dangerous as a short blast at a high noise level. Indeed, studies show that being exposed to sound levels of 85 dB (loud motorway noise, for example) for an 8-hour period is equivalent to a 15-minute burst of noise at 100 dB (typical of a jet flying overhead or a loud motorcycle nearby). As we get older, this cumulative damage can bring on gradual hearing loss, meaning we don’t realise how we’ve been affected until much later in life.
The effect on mental health and wellbeing
It’s not just hearing that can be impaired by exposure to loud or unwanted sound levels. Prolonged exposure to noise can also lead to a number of physical and mental health problems. These include coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke and an impaired immune system. Sleep disturbance and stress can also lead to mental anguish and psychological issues. Indeed, after air pollution, noise pollution is listed as the second most polluting factor by the World Health Organisation. This demonstrates the serious impact excessive noise has on society today.
This is never more true than when it comes to noise in the workplace. According to the HSE, more than 2 million people in the UK are exposed to unacceptable noise levels. It’s therefore imperative to control and optimise the auditory landscape that we live and work in, and this is where the services of an Acoustic Consultant are vital for our quality of life.
What does an Acoustic Consultant do?
In general terms, these acoustic specialists work in the branch of engineering that controls sound and vibration. Acoustic consultants assess, analyse and control sound levels, ensuring they remain compliant with Government and other guidelines, such as the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. This set of regulations sets out strict criteria for employers – when they need to undertake a risk assessment and at what sound levels they need to take action to minimise exposure. Remaining compliant with noise regulations is essential for many industries, especially the construction industry.
The job remit for an Acoustic Consultant
Acoustic Consultants measure, quantify and analyse sound. Their remit includes:
Understanding how environmental factors impact sound levels.
Knowledge of local and Governmental guidelines on noise pollution, permits and regulatory code.
Identifying the source of noise.
Data collection using advanced equipment to capture sound levels.
Creating 3D renderings and models using advanced software.
Generating technical reports outlining findings and recommendations.
Providing legal advice where there is a dispute.
Advising clients of optimal, cost-effective solutions.
In addition, Acoustic Consultants can be laboratory-based, involved in researching new ways to detect and improve sound quality and the performance of sound-absorbing materials.
Steps an Acoustic Consultant can recommend to mitigate sound levels
Where noise levels are excessive, there are a number of steps that can be undertaken to mitigate sound transmission.
In an industrial facility or construction site, where noise levels exceed the recommended action level of 85 dB, these include:
Regular maintenance and servicing of old machinery.
Replacing outdated and noisy equipment.
Erecting sound barriers to enclose noisy machinery.
Ensuring noise sources are kept away from employees.
Creating quiet zones.
In addition, where noise levels in an area are found to be or predicted to be an issue, the following architectural steps can be undertaken:
Decoupling the walls, to prevent transmission of structure-borne sound.
Installation of sound-damping materials such as cavity wall insulation.
Adding mass to the walls, using plywood, plasterboard, mass-loaded vinyl or acoustic foam panels.
How an Acoustic Consultant can engineer positive sound
The role of an Acoustic Consultant isn’t just about reducing annoying or dangerous noise levels. It can also involve enriching the listening experience, for example in concert halls and music venues.
Measures to improve acoustics for live or recorded music will generally focus on balance and clarity, as well as creating a rich reverberation time. Ways to achieve this include:
The shape of the hall – for classical music, a shoebox design provides optimal acoustics.
Installation of hard surfaces to reflect sound.
The use of suspended reflectors to ensure a uniform distribution of sound.
Careful placing of absorptive materials in certain areas to control sound waves; this will also minimise delayed sound.
Bizarrely, there are environments where being too quiet can be a negative, such as open plan offices, where a sufficient level of background noise is required to maintain privacy. Background noise is also a contributor to acoustic privacy between cellular spaces, such as meeting rooms – too quiet and there is too little masking.
Finally, there are a few steps that music venues such as nightclubs can take to help avoid noise complaints from neighbours:
Make sure speakers are aimed at the audience, not above their heads.
Keep an eye on the bass amplifiers, these are the leading culprits for noise complaints.
Use a sound level meter to monitor the decibel levels.
Ensure the venue is properly insulated for sound.
Who employs Acoustic Consultants?
Acoustic Consultants work across every sector – military and civilian, commercial and real estate, and construction and manufacturing. Typically employed by professionals such as developers, construction managers, architects, building services engineers, conservation trusts and legal teams, this is an incredibly varied profession. It can certainly be said that no two days are ever the same!
Why they are in demand
Our habitat is constantly evolving, so this work is always in demand, especially in the environmental sector. As urban sprawl brings industry closer to our homes, parks and wildlife, it’s more important than ever to manage the impact unwanted noise can have on us all. In fact, employment figures suggest a 10% increase in demand over the next 5 years, so it’s an excellent career choice for mathematically-minded problem solvers.
If you’re looking for guidance on your development or construction project, then get in touch with us today. Here at Auricl, we provide a tailored, bespoke service and specialise in noise assessment, planning applications and post-completion acoustic testing. We can help guide you through the acoustic landscape, ensuring you remain compliant with Government legislation and helping ensure the project is completed within budget and on time. If you need advice then contact us today. Dial 020 7859 4530 for our London office or for our Reading office, call 0118 207 7324. Alternatively, you can contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.