From time to time, laboratories and shops may work with equipment that has the potential to produce elevated noise levels which may cause discomfort to the equipment user and nearby personnel. It is natural to assume that the use of hearing protection devices (HPDs), such as ear plugs and ear muffs, will remedy the situation. As true of any occupational exposure hazard however, the use of the hierarchy of controls to minimize potential exposure, discussed in the Winter 2014 SafetyMatters newsletter, should be applied before PPE is selected. Additionally, PPE must be appropriate for the task and the user must be trained on proper use and care of the equipment.
Administrative and engineering controls should be applied first to minimize noise. These may be as simple as limiting the time spent working with noisy equipment or ensuring that equipment is properly maintained (administrative) and noise isolation equipment, such as curtains and sound absorbing panels, are installed (engineering). Where engineering and administrative controls are not successful in lowering noise exposure to acceptable levels, PPE in the form of HPDs may be applied, but EH&S must perform a noise assessment prior to the selection and use of HPDs to ensure that the HPD is adequate for reducing the noise to a safe level.
The New York City Building Code requires that minimum corridor widths shall not be less than 44 inches to allow for safe passage and egress. Within rooms, such as laboratories, with an occupant capacity of 50 persons or less, aisle space of 36 inches must be maintained. Egress is further addressed by the New York City Fire Code which emphasizes in several sections that storage of combustible material, such as cardboard boxes, books, paper, lab coats etc., is not allowed in corridors, unless specifically approved by the FDNY.
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