How to Prevent Noise Pollution in Construction

Noise pollution is an invisible danger that affects millions of people each day. From loud rock concerts to highway traffic, noise pollution can take many forms. Construction-related noise pollution is one of these categories and can contribute to wide-ranging dangers such as elevated blood pressure in adults and disruption to the routines of local wildlife.

While noise pollution is a real problem in construction sites, there are a variety of ways that you can reduce your work site’s sound output. For example, workers can ensure they choose appropriate construction equipment for the job and ensure that all equipment is functional before use.

Dive into more of the ways you can reduce noise pollution on the job below, or skip straight to the infographic with tips to combat noise pollution in your community.

What Is Noise Pollution?

The term “noise pollution” includes any type of sound that affects the health and well-being of humans and wildlife. The severity of noise pollution is measured through decibels.

A general rule of thumb is that excessive noise is considered anything causing or exceeding 85 decibels of sound over an 8 hour period. OSHA recommends that employees wear hearing protection devices at this level of sound exposure to protect them from the harmful effects of noise pollution.

What Are the Effects of Noise Pollution?

Other than being a nuisance, noise pollution as a result of construction projects can have damaging effects on people and the environment. Here are a few of the ways that noise pollution can harm you and your community.

  • Loss of hearing — One of the most common effects of noise pollution is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is irreversible.
  • Threatens biodiversity — Noise pollution can also harm both land animals and aquatic life. Because many land animals use sound to navigate and find food, noise pollution can make it harder for them to accomplish these important tasks. Underwater construction also has an impact on animals that use echolocation to communicate and navigate under the sea.
  • Negative effects on the well-being of humans — Prolonged exposure to loud noise can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disturbances, and stress.

Noise pollution is dangerous to everyone and can lead to developmental or psychological problems.

The Two Types of Noise Control

Noise controls are used to protect workers from hazardous noise exposure. These controls likely won’t eliminate noise on-site but will help to minimize the damage that excessive noise can cause. Even reducing construction site noise by a few decibels can greatly improve hearing conservation.

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls isolate people from the noise hazard. Certain pieces of equipment help reduce the noise by enclosing or re-routing the path of noise from the source.

A few examples of engineering controls include:

  • Choosing low-noise machinery
  • Maintaining and lubricating equipment and machinery
  • Placing a barrier between the noise and worker

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are changes in the way people work. These controls are less about the equipment within a construction site and more about optimizing the work schedule to lessen noise effects on workers.

A few examples of administrative controls include:

  • Operating noisy machinery during times when fewer people are on-site
  • Limiting the amount of time a worker spends near the source of noise
  • Providing quiet areas where workers can find relief during breaks

8 Ways to Reduce Noise Pollution on the Job Site

There are a variety of ways that you can lessen your worksite’s noise pollution output. From making a conscious effort to reduce noise in the design stage to optimizing job site equipment to be less noisy, here are eight ways to explore minimizing noise pollution.

1. Eliminate Noise During Design

One of the best ways to reduce noise exposure is to consider noise in the project design phase. This can be done by choosing equipment that reduces the noise level and by eliminating design flaws that can amplify noise.

Here are a few ways that you can optimize your work site to reduce noise before starting construction:

  • Covering metal tables, metal wheels and other metal pieces with rubber to reduce noise vibration
  • Modifying parts to reduce rattle and ringing
  • Lining tumbling barrels, metal chutes and hoppers with an elastic material such as cork or hard rubber to reduce mechanical shock between parts
  • Reducing noise resulting from vibration of beams and plates by ensuring machine rotational speeds do not coincide with resonance frequencies of the supporting structure

2. Add Noise Barriers

Noise barriers block the direct path of sound waves from the source of noise, protecting workers and the community from noise exposure. They do not eliminate noise, but they help to reduce the level of noise.

Noise barriers work by enclosing the source of sound within sound-absorbing materials like mineral wool. A few examples of machinery you may want to add noise barriers to include saws and jackhammers.

3. Use Sound-Absorbing Materials

Sound-absorbing materials can be helpful in reducing construction noise. Materials such as metal, wood and concrete are sound-reflective materials that sound waves bounce off of. Instead, opt for materials such as carpet, foam padding or fiberglass insulation that absorb sound. Place these types of materials on floors, ceilings and walls to help reduce sound reverberation.

A worker installs sound-absorbing insulation.

4. Choose Less Noisy Equipment

There’s no getting around the fact that construction equipment can be loud, but there are ways to choose equipment that is quieter.

A general rule of thumb is that electronic-powered equipment is quieter than diesel-powered equipment. Similarly, hydraulically powered equipment is quieter than pneumatic power. It’s important to note that quieter machines or processes can cost more because manufacturing tolerances on the machines are tighter, gears mesh better, quieter cooling fans are used.

5. Optimize Your Current Equipment

If you’re looking for ways to reduce the noise levels of your current equipment, there are a few modifications to consider. A popular option is to use acoustical silencers in intake and exhaust systems, such as internal combustion exhaust systems or air conditioning systems.

There are also steps you can take to ensure your equipment runs smoothly. Ensure that bolts are tightened, parts are well-lubricated and check for wear and tear on equipment to reduce excessive noise while also protecting your employees from injury.

6. Ensure Proper Saw Cutter Practices

One of the louder pieces of equipment on a construction site is often the concrete saw. You can reduce noise caused by a concrete saw by choosing a blade with the largest amount of teeth and a smell width between teeth and choosing a blade with the smallest possible gullets. You should also make it a practice to check the water supply to the blade is sufficient and make it a habit to change the blade when it starts to show signs of wear.

7. Offer Personal Hearing Protection for Workers

Protect your workers from the effects of excessive noise by offering them hearing protection devices. There are several methods to determine the noise level on a job site. One option is to use an app to get an idea of how loud around different equipment and in different areas of the work zone. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s Sound Level Meter app is one option.

There are three basic types of hearing protection to consider:

  • Ear muffs
  • Ear plugs
  • Canal caps

You could also double up on hearing protection by wearing ear plugs underneath ear muffs.

Ear muffs, ear plugs and canal caps help to protect hearing on the job.

You should also take into account the noise reduction rate of the different hearing protection devices when choosing the right method for workers. The noise reduction rate (NRR) is a unit of measurement used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection devices to decrease sound exposure.

8. Schedule Work to Control Workers’ Exposure to Noise

Another way to manage workers’ exposure to noise is to plan the work schedule to limit the number of people on-site when there are noisy tasks happening such as a jackhammer or concrete breaking. Moving workers from a high-noise job to a low-noise job can also reduce the negative effects of noise exposure.

Bottom Line: Reducing Noise Pollution Benefits Workers and the Community

Noise pollution is not as obvious of a danger as other types of pollution, where the effects can be seen in growing landfills or floating islands of trash. However, noise pollution is a very real danger that impacts millions of people on a daily basis.

Implementing measures on the worksite to minimize noise pollution can make a positive impact on workers and the community. For more ways to protect your workers and the environment, explore these additional tips below.

reducing-construction-noise-pollution-infographic


Additional sources: World Health Organization | The Indian Journal of Pediatrics

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