Resolving Noise Disputes

In this week’s blog, we look at neighbour noise disputes – from both the emotional and technical side.

The Effect of Disputes on People’s Lives

There is no doubt that noise disputes can be incredibly stressful for the parties involved. A good example is the current situation with Manchester’s Night & Day cafe;  the article in the link shows that there are always two sides to any argument. The owners of the venue are concerned about the cost of reducing noise, and whether they will be able to remain open at all, and have been able to generate a great deal of support from their customers and acts. But at the same time, the complainant no doubt has lost sleep and lives with the constant stress of wondering if tonight will be a ‘noisy’ night (not to mention the death threats which is appears they have received!).

This 20 year old article from the Independent  graphically highlights that noise disputes can cost lives, in the most extreme cases being the cause of both murders and suicides. and even in less extreme cases stress can affect our physical and mental wellbeing. It’s important, therefore, to sort out noise disputes as quickly as possible, so that life can return to normal, hopefully before any long term damage is done. In the majority of cases the warring parties will continue to be neighbours for some time after the dispute, so preventing relationships breaking down entirely is a key concern.

Neutral Assessment of Noise Issues

One of the things which we consider absolutely critical when working on noise disputes is that the acoustic consultant’s role is to be neutral. We are there to measure and assess the noise, and to look for ways to mitigate the situation. It can be difficult for all parties to accept the conclusions reached, as inevitably one side will not get the answer they were hoping for! We therefore always suggest that the acoustic consultancy cost is shared equally by both parties, so that there can be no accusation of bias or of the desired opinion being “bought”.

A good acoustic consultant in these situations also needs to be aware of the sensitivities of both parties and even act as a counselor. Clear communication about what form the investigative work will take, as well as understanding both sides of the issue, means that all involved are happy that they are being treated fairly and that their point of view is being heard and taken seriously.

Qualified Acoustic Consultants

If you want noise measurements made to help with your case, it’s important that these are credible. There is a great free iPhone app which lets you record noise and keep a diary of disturbance, however measurements of noise levels need to be made by a competent person, using calibrated Class 1 sound level meters. If you end up in court, measurements made with your phone or with a cheap “off the shelf” meter will quickly be discredited.

It’s not just about the equipment either – where and when measurements are taken, and other conditions around the measurements, are important too. Make sure that you employ a member of the Institute of Acoustics so that you can be sure your consultant knows what they are doing, else you could be wasting your money.

The Price of Peace

Returning to the Night & Day case in Manchester, the owners are clearly worried that resolving the issue will be costly. We aren’t involved in that specific case so can’t comment on what the ultimate solution will be. Certainly, if you have to go to the extent of installing independent wall or ceiling linings, or upgrading your glazing, that can be costly. But in some cases, the answers are much simpler. Many venues have installed noise limiters which keep sound at a level which is acceptable to the venue and to the neighbours. The elephants who live upstairs from you may be quietened by installing a resilient underlay to their laminate floor, or even better, a carpet.

Employing an acoustic consultant isn’t likely to break the bank either – especially if the costs are shared between parties. You may be able to resolve your dispute for much less than you think. If you’d like an informal, no obligation chat, please do 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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