Noise pollution in hospitals deserves attention

We at Acoustic Bulletin are happy to welcome guest bloggers. This time we have had the opportunity to collaborate with a Dutch healthcare professional, Judith Veen, who is telling us about a lecture she recently held in a hospital. Judith is hearing impaired, runs the business Heart2Hear and knows how important sound and acoustics are:

During my work as a manager in healthcare I discovered that caregivers not easily ask for help when they suffer from inner- or external noise problems.

Noise pollution in hospitals deserves attention

Recently, I was invited to give a presentation in a hospital about the impact of noise in the workplace. There was a very diverse audience. Everyone was working at the hospital, at different wards with very different specialism. Some of them are working as an analyst in a laboratory, another one was working as a manager and most of them are working as a nurse. Staff members often have an extra task which is monitoring the working conditions in the workplace – in this hospital on every ward there are coordinators with this extra task.

Judith Veen presenting.
Judith Veen presenting.

The outline of my presentation was not only about harmful noise but also about annoying noises which are often well below 80 dB (what is the accepted limit in many countries).

Before my presentation, I did a survey amongst the audience around what noises are most annoying in hospitals. More than 50% of the staff answered that noise from equipment was most burdensome and this corresponds very well to a recent well-completed survey by Erik Koomen et al[1] that showed the same trend: The most common annoying noise came from equipment.

Technical equipment in the hospital

The acoustic sound of equipment is necessary to alert health care providers to take action on the physical change of the patient. However, one of the outcomes was that 90% of the ICU alarms did not require immediate action from the caregiver – they were just a source of unnecessary annoying noise.

This can be managed better with the right alarm management. The participants also indicated that they had problems with various device sounds like soft humming or a continuous rustle. Also background noise caused by (loud) conversations in transfer areas, in the hallway or in the office were also experienced as very annoying.

Nurses task performance

A lack of space was mentioned as one of the causes. Jikke Reinten describes in Acoustic Bulletin[2] “Effect of sound on nurses task performance” that there are too little concentration or silence workplaces to be able to work undisturbed.

During my interactive lecture and presentation, the participants decided to bring this up for discussion in their teams. A good first step in searching for better work environments in regards to sound and acoustics is always raising awareness about annoying noise in the workplace and possible health consequences.

Corona and speech perception

These days, when we talk about health, safety and noise, of course we also talk about the effect of Corona measures. Wearing face masks give us a sense of security according to the majority of the respondents. However, by wearing mouth masks many care providers end up in complex situations because communication with patients and colleagues is more difficult.

Some people will speak louder to try to understand the other, but this often results in more noise for the environment and in some cases stress for the other, as we learned during this meeting.

Almost all respondents missed the facial expression for the complete story of the patient or colleague.


The golden advice is to slow down and also clearly articulate by wearing a mouth mask. And this advice turned out to be quite valuable because about 20% of the respondents indicated that they don’t receive all the information or to feel burdened and not always dare to ask questions. This fact is important to discuss.

Creating a safe environment is not only about hygienic safe environment but also mental safety. It is essential that someone feels safe and then dares to be vulnerable. Even during a conversation if something has not been heard. It’s about the right timing to dare to ask again. And maybe even for a second time. To do this, someone must have solid self-confidence and a safe culture within the team.


The last subject I mentioned this afternoon is that there are also many people who suffer from annoying noise – that is not caused by others. By that I mean tinnitus. In the Netherlands, more than 2.5 million people suffer from tinnitus which does not always have to involve hearing loss. Tinnitus can take different forms when it comes to annoying noise. In addition to other annoying noises, this certainly has an effect on the employee’s health.

With great insights, these healthcare providers are able to listen to sound in their organization – in a whole different and more complete way.


About the guest blogger:

Judith Veen
Judith Veen
  • Name: Judith Veen
  • Where do you live: The Nertherlands
  • Company you work for: Heart2Hear
  • Where do you go to find peace: A walk in the forest.
  • What’s your favourite sound: Birds singing.
  • How did you end up working with acoustics: I’ve been overwhelmed by sudden deafness two times and therefore I have to live with hearing damage. It means that I will never have silence, which was – and sometimes is – a grieving process. During my work as a manager in healthcare I discovered that caregivers not easily ask for help when they suffer from inner- or external noise problems.
  • What acoustics-related challenges do you face: Awareness of noise in daily life.
  • What is it like to work with room acoustics in your country: There is a lot to discover for me in this world!


[1] Reducing medical device alarms by an order of magnitude: A human factors approach – PubMed (


Healthcare 144

Related Blog Posts