Noisiness in Operating theatres: nurses’ perceptions and potential difficulty communicating.B Stringer, TA. Haines and JD Oudyk.Journal of Perioperative Practice (2008) 18(19) 384-391.

The intensity of noise in operating rooms (OR) has been steadily increasing over the years. It is reported that the average daytime noise levels in the OR in 1960 was 57dB but 72dB in 2004. This gives an average yearly increase as 0.38dB. This not only induces hearing loss but requires theatre staff to increase their voices in order to communicate clearly and overcome surrounding noise.

A carefully designed study to measure average and peak noise from July 2004 to July 2006 in different operating rooms was done. This study also included Nurses’ perceptions on ease of communicating during operations.

The results showed that the average noise levels in 9 surgical specialties were found to range to from 61.6dB to 69.8dB and average peaks ranged from 102.4 to 116.4dB. These all exceeded the WHO recommended levels 0f 30-35dB.

The authors ascribed this mostly to equipments like electric saws and drills as well as frequent alarms from various mechanical apparatus.

However Nurses perceived that normal volumes of speech were understandable with noise levels between 64 and 68 dB. It was however suggested that if the participating Nurses had been asked to make note of the frequency of their or other surgical personnel’s need to raise their voices to be understood, the results might be as expected.

The authors conclude that patient safety is at risk with these high levels and that future research addressing occupational stress due to noise pollution is needed.

Thankfully, bothersome levels of noise in the OR are not typical in Obstetrics and Gynaecology settings as in Orthopaedics.