Construction work is noisy. Whether you are putting something up or tearing it down. Even making repairs. The tools you use create noise. The plant and machinery make noise. The stacking of materials makes noise. It's pretty hard to carry out a job on the quiet.
We have discussed before legal limits for noise at work. These apply to noise exposure on site. But what about off site? What about people working, or living nearby?
Noise pollution is the noise that leaves your site. It can disrupt other people outside of your work. Noise travels, and this can cause big problems in construction work. It's often not enclosed. You might be building walls, or demolishing them. So it's hard to contain the noise you create. And sometimes, especially in maintenance and refurbishment, you might be carrying out work in the same building that others are also using. Their homes or their workplace.
Employers have legal duties when it comes to noise exposure at work. But employers also have responsibilities for the health and safety of others that may be affected by their work.
What does this mean for noise pollution?
Noise can be difficult to control, especially in a temporary work environment like a construction site. But there are ways to reduce the impact noise can have on the surrounding area. And, being considerate of your neighbours from the start can prevent issues and complaints during the project, keeping things running smoothly.
The law does not limit noise to certain hours, but between 11 pm to 7 am councils can enforce restricted permitted noise levels. Construction work ideally shouldn't be carried out during these hours, especially close to residential areas. It's too noisy.
There are some exceptions. Some roadworks, for example, are carried out at night due to safety reasons or to reduce disruption to the road network. If noisy work does need to be carried out at night, you can apply for consent to carry out work.
For many projects, noise considerations will often be addressed during the planning process and noise restrictions will often be applied to planning permission. For any project where noise becomes an issue, councils can serve a notice restricting hours and the work that can be done. Failing to comply with the notice can lead to prosecution and fines of an unlimited amount.
Here are some steps you can take to manage noise pollution during your construction projects.
Too much noise is bad for you. Some noise can be avoided, or at least reduced. And where you can, you should. For the health and safety of those on-site. And for the peace of those close by.
Replacing noisy equipment and processes with quieter alternatives is an easy fix for noise pollution when possible. Using equipment that is regularly inspected and maintained should also help keep noise levels in check.
For example, pre-fabricating elements off-site might reduce the need to drill and cut them on site. The noisy operations can be moved to a place with permanent and proper noise controls. Better for workers and site neighbours.
Noisy work is sometimes unavoidable in construction. But it can be planned and controlled. What time of day is going to mean the least disruption to neighbouring users? Can the work be carried out safely then, to reduce problems with noise pollution?
Try to avoid carrying out noisy operations early in the morning, or during the evening or night if you have residential areas nearby the site.
If you are working inside or close to a place that is occupied during the day, you could consider the times that they are most sensitive to noise, and plan loud work around those times.
It might not always be one specific noisy activity that is a nuisance to neighbours. Think about the things that make noise in general. The opening and closing of heavy metal gates. The noise and vibration of machinery moving around the site. The unloading and loading of site plant. The rumble of delivery vehicles. The low buzz from the generator.
When planning the project, think about the location of noisy plant and activities. Can these be placed somewhere they will have the least effect on others? If one side of your site is particularly sensitive to noise, but the other side is an industrial zone, for example, try to move noisy operations where you can.
Finally, communicating with people that might be affected can help soften the blow (or the noise in this case!). There's nothing worse than being woken up by a loud noise or having your meeting disturbed by deafening sounds where you can't hear yourself or others. If you weren't expecting it, your confusion might soon become anger and frustration. Who is making that noise, how do I complain?
You might not be able to eliminate all noise, but by letting people know what's happening, and when it is happening, they can prepare.
For example, if you have to carry out a noisy operation. Let people know when, and the steps you have taken to minimise disruption. For example, the noisy operation was planned at 10 am to reduce the impact on neighbouring residential properties. Or at 4 pm to reduce the disturbance in lessons at the nearby school.
Then, they know what the noise is when it happens. They know that it is planned. They also know that you have taken steps to reduce the inconvenience. You have thought about them as your neighbours.
If the work has to be carried out at a time it is going to be a nuisance, giving people notice will allow them to make alternative arrangements. For example, moving meetings, or changing shifts.