dBx Case Studies - Education

There is a proven link between acoustic conditions in schools and educational outcomes. Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) mandates minimum standards in primary and secondary schools for noise levels and room acoustics, as well as acoustic separation between teaching spaces.

The dBx Acoustics team can help you comply with BB93, but our expertise goes even further. We have extensive experience designing environments for pupils with additional needs, including autism and hearing loss, as well as higher education and noisier, practical workshop spaces.

New and refurbished school buildings must comply with Building Regulation E4 and the acoustic performance standards of Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) ‘Acoustic Design of Schools’. Whilst BB93 is not mandatory for higher education establishments, it typically forms the basis of the initial design for such establishments, with modifications as appropriate to allow for specific HE uses. Where projects are being designed with BREEAM in mind, credits HEA05 and POL05 are also relevant.

There are a number of different acoustic aspects which come together to ensure that acoustic conditions in schools are appropriate to support learning, and it’s so important to get it right – studies have shown that educational attainment can be directly correlated to acoustic conditions.

Our involvement often begins at the planning stage with an environmental noise survey, which allows us to advise on ventilation and glazing requirements to control noise ingress to the building. If mechanical ventilation is proposed, if there is an external MUGA, or if community use is proposed, the noise survey also allows noise emission limits to be set to ensure that existing neighbours are not adversely affected by noise.

Internal ambient noise levels in teaching spaces are also affected by mechanical ventilation, and we work with the M&E consultant to specify appropriate noise control measures, such as silencers.
When it comes to the design of the building itself, BB93 requires us to specify partitions and floors to control airborne and impact sound transmission between teaching spaces, based on their relative sensitivity and noise generation characteristics. The detailing of junctions and sealing of any services penetrations is critical in maintaining acoustic separation between adjacent rooms.

Having provided a suitably quiet teaching environment which won’t be adversely affected by activity in other classrooms, our focus moves to room acoustics and control of reverberation. Often this is as simple as specifying the acoustic performance of a suspended ceiling, but for large spaces such as Assembly Halls and Sports Halls, we undertake acoustic modelling to optimise the specification and placement of acoustic finishes. Where an exposed soffit is preferred, we calculate the specification and quantity of finishes, such as acoustic rafts and wall panels to control room acoustic conditions.

Finally, we carry out pre-completion acoustic testing on-site to ensure that all of the acoustic criteria for the project have been complied with on-site.

The dBx Acoustics team also have a particular interest in acoustic design for SEN schools, particularly schools catering to neurodiverse pupils. BB93 specifies design criteria for “children with special hearing and communication needs”, which is intended to include autism, ADHD and auditory processing difficulties, and assists in providing an environment in which speech transmission is clear and effective. The standard does not, however, consider the other acoustic aspects of school life which affect such pupils, including auditory sensitivities and the need to provide spaces to allow a retreat from the noise and bustle of daily school life. Our team’s direct and personal experiences of neurodiversity, both as parents and as individuals, helps us to understand the requirements of individual educational clients, and help guide the design of educational buildings to provide an acoustically diverse and appropriate environment.

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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