Sustainable Development discussions are often conducted exclusively in terms of saving energy and minimising carbon emissions, whether as direct effects from the specific project or in terms of embedded effects in materials.
However, Health and Wellbeing is seen as a fundamental part of sustainable development, to the extent that the BREEAM appraisal method specifically rates these aspects. Noise is seen within this framework as having an adverse effect on health and good acoustic design is rewarded by the awarding of credits towards an overall rating. Noise has also been highlighted by the CQC as an important part of the Patient Experience with the reported situation worsening.
Noise has, in fact, been recognised as a contributor to recovery as far back as Florence Nightingale’s time when, in 1898, she devoted a whole chapter of ‘Notes on Nursing What It Is, and What It Is Not’ to the subject. Amongst a great deal of good advice and practice that would bear repeating in full today she says “Unnecessary noise, then, is the most cruel absence of care which can be inflicted either on sick or well.”
The key word here being ‘unnecessary’
Noise is a factor of day-to-day life, yet it is important to view noise as a resource and not always as a pollutant, to recognise that there is ‘good’ noise that performs a function, to alert a dangerous situation or to soothe and aid recuperation when used positively. But, there is ‘unnecessary’ noise that is generated by careless actions or by bad design and specification.
Indeed, any such design is inherently thoughtless or careless and the end user suffers whether staff or patient. In the near future, it may be that re-use and refurbishment of existing facilities will predominate over new build. Good acoustic practice is vital to both approaches.
Whilst it may seem logical to apply the recommendations of the Department of Health best practice guidance (HTM 08-01) in new purpose built facilities, excuses can be made for not doing the same when looking at existing or converted properties. I would argue though that these facilities need the same levels of good practice no less than new buildings. If we have been converting factories, warehouses and commercial buildings to residential use with higher standards, there is no reason not to do the same with healthcare buildings.
These standards are always more easily and cost effectively achieved if provision is made from the beginning. An acoustic condition survey of your existing estate will allow you to plan future refurbishment in such a way that resources are concentrated on areas where maximum benefit can be gained.
And, to return to my initial question...
There is no point building sustainable low energy buildings if nobody wants to work or be treated in them. Noise is a crucial issue in sustainable development and cannot be ignored.