Fact Sheet: Noise in Open Workplaces

What do our members say about noise in open workplaces?

  • In the September 2018 PIPSC Survey on Open Workspaces, PIPSC members identified a number of needs to address noise including:
    • more quiet areas to do focused work (26%);
    • more privacy (24%);
    • effective Noise Cancelling Technology (22%).

What does the research say about noise in open workplaces?

  • Distracting noise has a detrimental effect on complex task performance.
  • Memory and problem solving decline with “realistic” office noises.
  • “Broken concentration reduces people’s ability to make the creative leaps that distinguish merely acceptable solutions from the truly innovative.”
  • Even at low levels, noise is an occupational hazard and it increases stress levels.[i]  A 2004 study indicated that as noise levels increased fewer postural adjustments were made, physiological stress indicators increased, and tolerance of frustration decreased.[ii]

What does your employer say about noise?

  • The GC Workplace Fit Up Standard has a number of references to noise abatement, noise room rating, and noise transfer.  However, rarely is specific direction given to what the technologies, ratings or abatement measures should be.
  • The GC Workplace Design Guide refers to grouping work zones or activity areas by noise and activity level, but does not discuss measures or indicators.  


  • Design Specifications
    • Partitions between workspaces should be 1.7 m to block noise.
    • Sight lines should be blocked between occupants at their most common task locations.
    • Larger Workstations should be at least 6.3 m2 to diminish sound reaching adjacent workers.
  • Monitoring
    • Ensure ambient sound introduced to minimize distractions and noise does not exceed 45 – 48 dBa.  Perform periodic testing.   

Sample Questions for Consultation Teams and Stewards:

  1. How have you grouped and measured different types of activity that will be performed within the workspace? This will determine how space is organized and possibly allocated.
  2. What specific noise mitigation measures are you putting in place? 

[i] Canada Safety Council, “Office Noise and Accoustics: Workplace Safety” online:  Canada Safety Council  <https://canadasafetycouncil.org/office-noise-and-acoustics/>.

[ii] Charles, K. E.; Danforth, A.; Veitch, J. A.; Zwierzchowski, C.; Johnson, B.; Pero, K., “Workstation design for organizational productivity: practical advice based on scientific research findings for the design and management of open-plan offices” p. 17, online: (2004) online: National Research Council <https://nrc-publications.canada.ca/eng/view/fulltext/?id=b0db4c34-bcfc-493b-aed7-ee06bdd9f336>