chalk and a chalk board

Acoustic Design of Schools – The New BB93

Building Bulletin 93 2014

At long last, an updated version of Building Bulletin 93, Acoustic Design of Schools, has been published by the Department for Education. Based heavily on the Priority Schools Building Project acoustic standards and guided by the Association of Noise Consultants working party, of which our Director was a member, this document supersedes both the PSBP standard and the previous version of BB93.

What’s New?

BB93:2014 addresses many of the criticisms put forward by acoustic consultants regarding the original version since its release in 2004. In particular, the new standard includes:

  • Clarity on where the standard applies

  • Separate guidance for new build and refurbishment/conversion

  • Clarity on minimum acceptable alternative performance standards

  • Clear guidance on rain noise

  • Full consideration of the needs of children with special hearing or communication needs

  • A requirement for acoustic commissioning testing

What Difference Will it Make?

The revised standard means that the acoustic design of schools will be consistent between consultants and will be more appropriate to support the needs of pupils. Contractors will be forced to include some items which in the past it was possible to justify the exclusion of, so build costs might be expected to rise slightly, but not significantly. Most importantly, more pupils, and in particular those with special needs, will get the acoustic conditions they need in order to learn.

As consultants, we’re delighted – it doesn’t improve our fees, but it allows us to ensure that we can defend good acoustic design against value engineering exercises, and deliver the acoustic standards we know are needed.

Why It Matters

Good school acoustic design can not only decrease both speaker and listener fatigue, it also provides a happier, more comfortable environment with fewer distractions, enabling both teachers and pupils to work effectively. For example, research shows that noise levels within classrooms can be correlated to pupil performance, with excessive noise having a detrimental effect on test scores (noise affects the processing of verbal and non-verbal tasks, particularly with regard to reading). Research has also shown that good acoustic conditions improves pupil behaviour – and this isn’t the only benefit to teachers, who are less likely to suffer from voice strain when acoustic conditions are correct.

A few extra pounds spent on good acoustics could save who knows how much in the future? A child who can hear the teacher well is more likely to be engaged and get better results. They go on to get job, support themselves, and contribute to the economy. A child who can’t hear the teacher, becomes disengaged and fails their exams is more likely to be a net cost to the economy. We know which we think is a better outcome for everyone – not least the children.

So we’re delighted at the update to BB93, and already putting it into practice on our current school projects – a new build Free School in Birmingham, and a refurbished primary in the North East.

Want to know how we can help your school become more effective? Contact us!

dBx Acoustics

Noise, Fatigue and Acoustic Design In Call Centres

We are all familiar with call centres – and most of the time when we talk about them it’s from the caller’s point of view. Are you frustrated when you are put through to someone in another country? Does the fake friendliness of the scripted interaction annoy you? But step back for a moment and remember some of those calls – was there something else that bothered you?

I know from my own experience that many a time I have been able to hear the operator on the next phone, and sometimes the whole hubbub of the call centre, which both makes it difficult to focus on your own conversation, and may give you some concerns about the privacy of your own conversation.

Noise transfer between call stations, and the build up of noise in general, is even more of a problem for call handlers, who need to maintain their focus over many hours. High background noise levels lead to physical and mental fatigue and therefore reduced efficiency, as well as the potential for operators to suffer from vocal fatigue which may lead to higher than normal absence rates through sickness. A 2008 study found that 28.7% of workers suffered permanent auditory fatigue, and that by the end of the working day this number had risen to 71.3%. The same study showed 48% of workers reporting vocal problems over the previous 12 month period.

This issue isn’t about to go away, either – the world’s largest call centre, with 20,000 seats, is about to open in China.

In the UK, over a million people work in the industry and there are over 5,000 call centres. Clearly both from the point of view of employer’s extracting the best and most efficient work from their employees, and for the health and welfare of the employees themselves, acoustic conditions in call centres need to be carefully considered, whatever their size.

Whether you’re planning a new contact centre, or having issues in an existing facility, it’s worth talking to a qualified acoustic consultant before you embark on the installation of acoustic treatments. A careful balance of both screening and acoustically absorptive finishes is required, and even the noise produced by the ventilation system can be used to help provide some sound masking. A consultant such as dBx Acoustics can model the space and demonstrate the auditory effect of different treatment options, allowing the client to assess the relative benefits and costs of various treatment schemes. Being able to optimize the placement and quantity of acoustic treatments allows a more effective and cost-conscious approach to acoustics, rather than just installing some absorptive treatments and hoping for the best.

Happier, healthier call centre workers? More calls, dealt with better, with lower staff absence rates? It sounds good to us. If you would like to talk to dBx Acoustics about how we can help you with call centre acoustics, please contact us!

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