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Decibels in the operating theatre: a study of noise levels during surgical procedures.

BACKGROUND: Exposure to excessive noise volumes is an occupational health and safety risk. Australian guidelines recommend a time weighted exposure maximum of 85 dB (dB) or a maximum peak noise level of up to 140 dB, as chronic and repeated high dB exposure can result in significant hearing impairment. The aim of this study was to assess the volume of noise generated by common surgical instruments while utilizing the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) app.

METHODS: Sound levels were measured using the NIOSH app. The NIOSH app was used to take equivalent continuous A-weighted sound levels (LAeq ) and the C-weighted peak sound pressure (LCpeak ) measurements for specific instruments while in use in theatre. A minimum of three readings per instrument were taken at immediate and working distances.

RESULTS: LAeq measurements ranged from 62.9 to 89.3 dB. The Padgett Dermatome and Frazier Sucker exceeded recommended exposure limits with an averaged LAeq reading of 85.7 dB(A) and 85.1 dB(A) respectively. LCpeak readings ranged from 89.9 to 114.7 dB(C) with none of the instruments exceeding a peak sound level beyond the recommended level of 140 dB(C).

CONCLUSION: The cumulative effect of loud surgical instruments across prolonged or combined operations may result in theatre staff being exposed to hazardous noise levels, impacting the health and wellbeing of staff, staff performance and patient care. Utilization of a phone app can improve the awareness of noise pollution in theatres, thereby empowering staff to be proactive about their health and improvement of their work environment.

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