Address healthcare noise levels by using quieter, well-maintained floor care equipment

Florence Nightingale once wrote “Unnecessary noise is the most cruel abuse of care which can be inflicted on either the sick or the well.” Though these words were written in 1859, they still ring true today. Understanding the basics of sound transmission and measurement, and how to mitigate it in the healthcare facility is critical for everyone, including housekeeping operations.

Studies have shown that exposure to noise can increase patient heart rates, anxiety, and contribute to slowed recovery times. And though the impact on healthcare workers is less documented, noise also takes a toll on them. High noise levels can contribute to burnout, depression and irritability.

While the impact of noise is widely known, Johns Hopkins University research found that over the past century, noise remains an unsolved problem in healthcare. In fact, acoustical engineers studying the issue at the university report that healthcare noise levels have increased steadily over the past 50 years. In 1960, average hospital sound levels were 57 decibels (dB) compared to 72 dB today, while nighttime levels went from 42 dB to 60 dB during that time frame.

Everyone in the hospital setting plays a role in keeping noise levels down, but environmental services operations can do their part by assessing and managing the noise their equipment makes. The first step is to identify the sources of noise using a digital decibel meter, which can be used to measure sound levels at different times of day. Staff can also be used to identify sound issues, reports Isaac Johnson, resident regional manager in the Department of Environmental Services at Duke University Health System in Durham, North Carolina.

“We have a huge staff dedicated to improving noise levels,” he says. “We had department employees sit in various areas of the hospital and observe the sounds around them, and write down things they felt could improve sound levels.”

Johnson reports that the key areas in environmental services (EVS) were the equipment workers used and the carts they rolled across the hospital.

When stressing the importance of assessing sound in this way, Allen Rathey, president of the Healthy Facilities Institute in Boise, Idaho, says: “You can’t clean with dirty tools, and I would think that you can’t really clean in the healthcare environment with noisy equipment.”

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Controlling The Noise That Comes From Cleaning