ENVIRONMENTAL NOISE ON CONSTRUCTION SITES
Construction and industrial sites can have environmental noise that reaches very hazardous levels. Frequently, the environmental noise comes from multiple sources that are temporary. Depending upon the phase of construction or work, the noise may be indoors, outdoors, or both.
Construction sites in particular have changing activities and job functions throughout the project, whereas industrial sites may produce more consistent environmental noise levels. Each of the trades uses diverse equipment to complete a project, and tasks may overlap. Workers who perform relatively quiet tasks may be exposed to hazardous environmental noise from others working around them. For instance, an electrician may encounter noise on a site that exceeds the OSHA limits.
Controlling Environmental Noise
As noted above, industrial noise is frequently consistent and predictable, whereas construction noise is variable and changing depending on the project. For instance, a shop floor with production equipment operating daily has environmental noise levels that do not change often. Change can come from the addition of new equipment, materials, machine malfunctions, or alterations to the workspace. However, once the changes are complete, the noise returns to its predictable state.
Construction noise is more difficult to control. In addition, a job site can make it difficult to ensure that appropriate hearing protective gear is used due to the continual change in workforce and the size of the site. These circumstances make it more complex to remediate environmental noise, even though it is as hazardous as other types of noise. Environmental noise from construction may come from drills, sledgehammers, welding machines, tamping machines, electric saws, dump trucks, cement mixers, and jackhammers.
The noise produced by this equipment can easily exceed the OSHA limit of 90 decibels and may require HPDs (hearing protection devices). The noise may be impulse noise with high intensity or continuous. Either way, HPDs offer the best remediation for individual workers.
Jackhammers are a notoriously noisy source of environmental noise on construction sites.
Addressing Objections to HPDs
Although environmental noise on construction and industrial sites can exceed 90 decibels, many workers forgo HPDs. Some common complaints are that HPDs are uncomfortable and may produce a situation in which a worker fails to hear warning signals or their colleagues. This may be from a lack of training in using HPDs correctly, or some workers may be unaware of or have no access to hearing protection.
Employers must overcome these objections for the safety of their workers when exposed to environmental noise that exceeds OSHA limits. Evaluating and monitoring of the job site, using educational materials, and making HPDs easily accessible will help address the objections to HPDs.
Training may include information and statistics on the number of construction and industrial workers who experience hearing loss. When possible, an employer may let workers have a say in selecting the HPDs that are compliant with OSHA standards to ensure their use on the job site. Choosing gear that is compliant yet does not overprotect will alleviate concerns that a worker may fail to hear warnings. The marketplace offers many types of gear to meet both compliance and user acceptance.
Mitigating Environmental Noise on Job Sites
An effective method of reducing noise is to use a noise barrier between the loud equipment and the outside receivers. These barriers may be constructed on site from already available materials, or they may be fabricated from commercially available panels. The panels include lining with sound absorbing materials, which produce the optimum shielding effect. For the best shielding from the environmental noise, the barriers should be installed closely to the noise source with the purpose of total shielding.
In general, measures to reduce noise levels should be designed to reflect the noise back towards the source. Some examples of planning for mitigating measures include:
Gathering data on probable noise levels from the equipment prior to commencing work. This is also an effective method to select the appropriate equipment.
Pre-planning the placement of equipment when possible to minimize the impact. This may include compressors, generators, and other machines.
Educating workers to prevent inappropriate operation of equipment, such as operating the equipment at full power when lower levels are adequate.
Meticulous planning of industrial and construction activities.
Using internal combustion machines over electrical equipment when possible.
Limiting high power equipment and using manufactured construction components that require smaller electric tools.
Using noise isolation materials when possible to reduce environmental noise emissions, such as walls, acoustic noise barriers, or hoarding
Using ready-mix concrete when possible versus a concrete mixer on site.
Using electric lifts instead of cranes when appropriate.
Performing regular maintenance on equipment to keep them at high levels of performance to reduce noise output.
Pre-plan the operating time for loud equipment to minimize the number of workers exposed to higher decibel levels.
Use multiple machines to complete a task in less time to minimize exposure.
Using HPDs (Hearing Protection Devices) like earmuffs or earplugs is the simplest way to protect workers from the harm of environmental noise.
Over the last few decades, the impact of environmental noise from construction and industry has grown. There is a growing recognition of the hazards that high levels of noise can cause. With careful planning, employers can mitigate the risks to their workers with improved processes and use of appropriate HPDs. Innovative designs and materials are making it more cost effective to protect workers as well. Rather than being an inconvenience or unnecessary expense, investments in time and money will protect a workers hearing. In addition, environmental noise has been shown to cause real health problems such as annoyance, anxiety, heart conditions, cognitive impairment, learning difficulties, sleep disturbances, and cardiovascular disease.
In one European study, researchers concluded that Western Europeans lose one million years of life each year due to environmental noise. Minimizing the impact of man-made noise is increasingly important to many aspects of healthy living.