Acoustical Society of America
157th Meeting Lay Language Papers

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Acoustics & Health: New Code-Level Criteria Set for Acoustics in Healthcare Facilities

David M. Sykes
ANSI S12 Work Group 44

Popular version of paper 4aNS1
Presented on Thursday morning, May 21, 2009
157th ASA Meeting, Portland, OR

Hospitals are very noisy places -- which impacts the health and safety of patients and the performance of healthcare workers. In fact, noise levels in hospitals and healthcare facilities are now twice as loud as they were when the “Noise Control Act” was passed in 1972. Unfortunately, though this law is still on the books, enforcement stopped in 1980. As a result, respected journals like the New England Journal of Medicine characterize current noise levels as “pandemonium.”

But acoustical problems in healthcare facilities are not limited to noise: for instance, recent consumer-privacy-protection laws like HIPAA protect “Speech Privacy,” an acoustical term that has been recognized by ANSI standards since 1969. Regulators have been searching for criteria to enforce this HIPAA requirement. Another acoustical issue is vibration. Recent earthquakes and hurricanes have stimulated new code requirements that cover vibration. In addition, recent interest in climate change has caused environmentalists to realize that noise is an important factor in what they call “Environmental Quality.” This convergence of social concerns underlies a resurgence of public interest in acoustics, even while the Noise Control Act remains unenforced. And healthcare facilities are where all of these social concerns have come into focus.

The multifaceted surge of interest stimulated a number of public policy groups -- the Workgroup on Electronic Data Interchange (WEDI), the American Hospital Association (ASHE), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) , the US Green Building Council (USGBC-LEED), and the Green Guide for Healthcare (GGHC) -- to be interested in developing a single, comprehensive set of new acoustical guidelines that cover all aspects of acoustics in healthcare facilities. New guidelines were actually commissioned first in 2003 by WEDI to cover speech privacy, but this request was significantly broadened in 2005 by the Facility Guidelines Institute (an agency representing the American Institute of Architects and the American Hospital Association). The final set of comprehensive acoustical guidelines was drafted by a large group chaired by William Cavanaugh and Gregory Tocci of FASA and David Sykes of ASA. This group is known as TC-AA.NS.SC (Joint Technical Subcommittee on Speech Privacy & Healthcare Acoustics), a 500-member joint sub-committee of the Acoustical Society of America, the Institute of Noise Control Engineering, and National Council of Acoustical Consultants (

In 2007, following two rounds of public review, the new guidelines were first implemented by the Green Guide for Healthcare (, which served as the “pilot phase” for the LEED for Healthcare initiative. Then, in early 2009, based on the success of this pilot phase and additional rounds of public review, the guidelines were adopted as the sole “Reference Standard” for two new “Indoor Environmental Quality” credits in the LEED Building Rating System for healthcare facilities. The LEED system is in active use in over eighty countries around the world. And then in early 2010, following two additional rounds of public review, the same guidelines will be published by the group that originally commissioned them four years ago, the Facility Guidelines Institute. This group will integrate the acoustical guidelines into the authoritative 2010 FGI Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities, a 60-year-old document originally published by the US Department of Public Health that is accepted as code by forty-seven states and seven federal agencies and is widely used across Canada and in 16 other foreign countries.

Because this single set of comprehensive acoustical criteria has now achieved broad acceptance by a variety of public policy groups, it is important for practitioners and researchers in acoustical science to be aware of the guidelines when designing acoustical solutions for healthcare facilities.

The speaker, David M. Sykes, co-founded and serves as co-chair of the technical committee responsible for drafting the acoustical criteria, TC-AA.NS.SC, and of ANSI S12 WG44. He will give an overview of the comprehensive guidelines on Thursday, May 21, 2009 during the Acoustical Society of America conference in Portland OR.

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