In order to keep sound that travels beyond the walls of a particular area, such as medical examination rooms and human resources offices, from being overheard by unintended listeners, an ASTM subcommittee specializing in speech privacy is at work on a proposed new standard, WK47433, Performance Specification of Electronic Sound Masking When Used in Building Spaces. (Visit the IHS Standards Library.)

“Electronic sound masking systems have been in use since the advent of open plan offices in the mid-1960s,” says ASTM member Kenneth Roy, Ph.D., senior principal research scientist, Armstrong World Industries. Roy says that too much variability in system performance led to user dissatisfaction with the early systems.

Now, specific driving factors — particularly the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA — require predictable speech privacy outcomes on a consistent basis.

“In healthcare, the need for electronic sound masking systems is being driven by government regulations and legal requirements, so we need to be able to design for specific levels of speech privacy for doctors and patients and also in office environments when dealing with HR discussions, medical and legal situations and financial and management issues,” says Roy. “Generally speaking, we have expectations of confidentiality when we are within closed doors, and we wish to be productive in open plan office areas where noise distractions are often an issue. Current design and construction trends limit our ability to accomplish this goal without the inclusion of well-designed sound masking technology.”

Primary users of WK47433 will be manufacturers of sound masking equipment and audio system designers who apply these systems to architectural environments.

WK47433 is being developed by Subcommittee E33.02 on Speech Privacy, part of ASTM Committee E33 on Building and Environmental Acoustics. In addition to developing WK47333, the subcommittee has these related standards, all of which are currently being revised, under its jurisdiction:

ASTM E1130, Test Method for Objective Measurement of Speech Privacy in Open Plan Spaces Using Articulation Index;
ASTM E1374, Guide for Open Office Acoustics and Applicable ASTM Standards;
ASTM E1573, Test Method for Evaluating Masking Sound in Open Offices Using A-Weighted and One-Third Octave Band Sound Pressure Levels; and
ASTM E2638, Test Method for Objective Measurement of the Speech Privacy Provided by a Closed Room.

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