POV: You're scrolling through your favorite social media platform and suddenly, the app crashes. Or you're at the airport trying to catch a flight home, and unexpectedly, every flight is canceled. Most people probably aren't thinking about data centers when they experience these inconveniences. Data centers have a significant impact on many different facets of the economy, and when they go down, the world comes to a halt. Not only does data center downtime cost a lot (about $9,000/minute on average), but data center downtime can be quite damaging, sometimes even endangering lives. 

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According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the annual financial impact to employers due to worker's compensation cases for employee hearing loss on the job is estimated to be $242 million. In fact, hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States. Approximately 22 million workers are exposed to harmful noises daily on the job. Data centers are particularly noisy places, with the average noise level reaching up to 92 dB(A) around server areas, and within the server racks, noise levels can reach up to 96 dB(A). In all cases where noise levels exceed 85 dB(A) for more than 8 hours, it is well documented the impact that insufficient hearing protection can have on employees’ long-term hearing quality.

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Wrong. Based on research found by us at Sensear, the average noise level around the server areas of a data center can be up to 92dB(A), and within the server racks, noise levels can reach up to 96dB(A). To put this into perspective, this is equivalent to listening to a motorcycle up close all day, for 48-52 hours a week (or more if there aren’t enough workers). How long and how loud can someone listen to sound without risking hearing damage? OSHA and NIOSH break this down in Figure 1 below.

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Workplace hearing protection programs typically focus on individuals with normal hearing. But what about workers who already suffer from some level of hearing loss?  Even in quiet environments, workers with hearing loss face a number of challenges, including difficulty communicating with colleagues and problems with differentiating important sounds above background noises.

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Working in a modern data center is a critical role within many organizations. Internal and external customer demands, coupled with the varied demands of the job (not just IT), and physical and mental pressures combine to create a potentially stressful environment. In fact, according to a 2014 IT Admin Stress Survey conducted by Opinion Matters, “79 percent of IT staff are actively considering leaving their current role due to job-related stress.”

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There have been recent articles and scientific research into the noise trends within data centers. Generally, data center managers have taken the position that noise is an acceptable part of the job. However as the industry trends move towards the adoption of high-density equipment and data center consolidation, not only do potential hearing hazards warrant a closer look to protect data center employees, but how do those employees communicate above the noise?

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A Datacenter is not the typical work environments that health and safety professionals think about when it comes to hearing conservation. Dangerous noise levels are usually associated with heavy industrial environments such as those found in the Mining, Oil and Gas and Heavy Manufacturing Industries.

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  Download Sensear's 7 Degrees of Hearing Loss Infographic