Hopefully, your office is a relatively peaceful place. Did you know that there is a comfortable range of noise that promotes concentration and avoids distractions?

The volume of a typical office usually is between 40-60 dB, and the sources of this noise range from computer fans to copy machines to people speaking around you. Generally, higher levels of noise can result in impaired alertness and annoyance both of which decrease performance. Reducing background noise, however, has been shown to reduce typing errors.

Maintaining a lower level of background noise also is important for understanding conversations you have with your colleagues or on the phone. A normal conversation typically is held at volumes between 60-65 dB. To understand speech correctly, we recommend that background noise be at least 10 dB lower.

However, even when speech is at 60 dB and background noise is at 40 dB, people typically only comprehend about 80 percent of speech. Using a separate room with minimal background noise would help maximize speech comprehension for meetings.

We recommend keeping background noise between 48-55 dB, which has been shown to reduce noise-related errors. However, keeping background noise between 54-59 dB will help mask distracting conversations. To reduce background noise coming from office equipment, we recommend moving louder equipment into a separate room that is separated from offices and cubicles. Sound-absorbing dividers and carpeting also can help reduce noise from conversations colleagues in nearby offices and cubicles are having with visitors or on the phone.

The environmental factors discussed here are one piece of the puzzle in office ergonomics. Every aspect of the work place from the chair, workstation layout, mouse, keyboard and other items should be optimally designed and positioned based on the tasks that are performed and a variety of personal factors. The goal of ergonomics is to design and set up workplaces that are free of health and safety risks, comfortable and productive.

Jeffrey Fernandez, PhD, PE, CPE, is the managing principal at JFAssociates Inc. He holds a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Texas Tech University, is the past president of the Board of Certified Professional Ergonomists (BCPE) and is a member of the EHS Today Editorial Advisory Board. Marc Christian, PhD, AEP, CSSBB, is the managing engineer at JFAssociates Inc. He holds a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Virginia Tech. Anand Subramanian, PhD, CPE, CSSBB, is the principal at JFAssociates Inc. He holds a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio. To learn more about the services offered by JFAssociates, Inc. please visit their website at www.jfa-inc.com or email them at info@jfa-inc.com.