The World Health Organization sets noise level values in healthcare at 35 dBA (A-weighted decibels, taking into account different frequencies of sound) during the day and 30 dBA at night in patient rooms; yet peak noise levels often average 85 to 90 dBA, reports “Sound Control for Improved Outcomes in Healthcare Settings.”

With this knowledge in hand, healthcare cleaning operations striving to do their part have begun purchasing floor care equipment that operates at quieter levels — anywhere from 62 to 70 dB. These numbers coincide with sound requirements set by LEED v4.

“Currently, LEED sets the standard at 70 decibels for carpet extractors, vacuums and burnishers,” says John Poole, a consultant for the cleaning industry. “That’s the magic number that is considered ‘green.’”

However, levels of 85 dBA are actionable, according to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, so Poole recommends hospitals start monitoring noise levels at 75 dBA. He also recommends EVS staffs look at the floor equipment they use, the wheels on their carts and the vacuums they use.

“If existing equipment is louder than 70 decibels, it can be subbed out with quieter equipment in patient areas,” says Poole. “The louder equipment can instead be used in offices and lobbies and other common areas.”

Managers should choose cleaning equipment not only for its performance, price and function, but also for its decibel output.

Rathey points out that vacuum cleaners are a noisier technology but backpack vacuums can be an appropriate solution. They build a lot of muscling into airflow so there is less noise. Some machines also offer a quiet mode setting that lowers performance slightly, but operates at about 62 dBA.

“Most people want a clean room, but they don’t want a noisy vacuum coming in,” he says. “A suction-only backpack vacuum would be a lot quieter and it tends to remove more dust than dust mopping.”

While it doesn’t eliminate noise, healthcare operations using quieter buffers can also select greener floor strippers to do the job. These floor strippers are mild, have less smell and are safer for vulnerable populations.

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