Environmental Noise 

Environmental noise, often referred to as community noise, encompasses unwarranted sound emissions from a wide array of sources, except for industrial work settings. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), it encompasses noise arising from all origins including industrial workplaces. 

Notable contributors to environmental noise comprise transportation (such as road, rail, and air traffic), industrial activities, construction, public infrastructure projects, and neighbourhood activities.  

Environmental noise can induce a range of health implications, including disruptions in sleep patterns, cognitive impacts, heightened annoyance levels, and potential cardiovascular health risks.  

Given its health repercussions, the regulation of environmental noise has become imperative, necessitating health-centric thresholds and guidelines to address its impact. 

Health Effects of Environmental Noise 

Environmental noise has been identified as a contributor to several health issues among individuals, including: 

1) Sleep Disturbance:  

Environmental noise can disrupt sleep, leading to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. This results in daytime fatigue, reduced cognitive function, and overall well-being. 

2) Cardiovascular Disease:  

Exposure to environmental noise is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Studies indicate that noise exposure can elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and the release of stress hormones. 

3) Cognitive Impairment:  

Prolonged exposure to environmental noise, particularly in urban areas, is associated with cognitive impairments, including reduced attention span, memory problems, and decreased performance in tasks requiring concentration and focus. 

4) Annoyance:  

Environmental noise can lead to annoyance and psychological distress, negatively affecting mental health and well-being. Annoyance may manifest as irritability, stress, and a diminished quality of life. 

It is essential to acknowledge that while ongoing research is shedding light on the health impacts of environmental noise, there is already sufficient evidence to support the notion that noise has adverse effects on health. As a result, taking action to reduce environmental noise exposure, where feasible, is a prudent step to mitigate these health risks. 

Additional Effects of Environmental Noise 

The additional health effects of environmental noise are given below: 

1) Endocrine Disruption:  

Some research suggests that environmental noise might disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates hormones in the body. This disruption could lead to a variety of health issues, including metabolic disorders. 

2) Developmental Effects:  

Children exposed to chronic environmental noise may experience developmental problems, including impaired cognitive development and learning difficulties. 

3) Hearing Impairment:  

While more commonly associated with occupational noise exposure, long-term exposure to high levels of environmental noise can lead to hearing impairment, especially in urban areas with high noise pollution. 

These effects are subject to ongoing investigation and may depend on factors such as the intensity and duration of noise exposure, individual susceptibility, and the specific sources of environmental noise.  

As research continues, a more comprehensive understanding of the health impacts of environmental noise will likely emerge. 

Noise Regulation 

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 in Queensland (EP Act) plays a crucial role within a legislative framework overseeing noise emissions from residential, commercial, and industrial establishments. This framework aligns with the core objective of the EP Act regarding Queensland’s soundscape. It aims to preserve Queensland’s acoustic surroundings, striking a balance with ecologically sustainable development. 

Enhancing Noise Control Policies for Community Well-being 

Community engagement plays a pivotal role in the development of effective noise control policies. It is highly recommended to proactively inform communities and stakeholders about both national and international standards and guidelines pertaining to environmental noise. This dissemination of information can be effectively carried out by state and territory health agencies, relevant governmental bodies, stakeholders, and non-government organisations. By raising awareness of the health implications associated with environmental noise, we can secure the vital involvement and support of communities in the implementation of noise control measures. 

In tandem with community engagement, noise control policies should place a strong emphasis on measures aimed at reducing environmental noise and its associated health effects. This encompasses a comprehensive review of the consistency of existing legislation across all levels of government, with a particular focus on noise generated by transportation activities. It is imperative to establish specific noise criteria for areas adjacent to transport infrastructure and to promote the adoption of noise mitigation measures such as acoustic barriers and noise insulation in residential structures. Furthermore, the judicious use of licensing controls can effectively limit the adverse impacts of noise. 

Moreover, addressing environmental noise within the realm of planning and development activities holds significant importance. This involves the inclusion of environmental noise considerations within the health impact assessments of proposed developments, conducting thorough assessments of baseline environmental noise levels through noise mapping, and continuously reviewing and refining noise control practices. Striving for national consistency in guidelines to minimize or prevent environmental noise emanating from various developments is of paramount importance, with a keen eye on incorporating emerging findings from ongoing noise research. 

Lastly, promoting and supporting research to underpin policymaking and decisive action is a critical component of a well-rounded approach. This entails conducting rigorous evaluations of noise exposures for the national, state, and city populations, focusing on each major noise source. Additionally, robust support for noise mapping initiatives is essential, and it is imperative to conduct evaluations of the effectiveness of noise reduction schemes on community health. Further research into the impact of noise on areas such as children’s learning performance, sleep disruption, annoyance levels, cardiovascular health, and mental well-being is crucial for establishing threshold levels that safeguard public health. 

Thus, the alignment of community engagement with robust noise control policies serves as a powerful means to mitigate the health repercussions of environmental noise, ensuring the overall well-being of individuals and communities alike. 

Steps to Reduce Environmental Noise 

Below given are the steps to reduce environmental noise at your workplace: 

a) General Steps

i) Noise Barriers:  

Erecting physical barriers such as sound walls or acoustic fences along highways, railways, or other noisy transportation routes to block noise from reaching residential areas. 

ii) Noise Insulation:  

Implementing noise insulation measures in residential buildings, including double-glazed windows, thicker walls, and soundproof doors, to reduce the infiltration of noise. 

iii) Urban Planning:  

Designing residential areas with a buffer zone between noisy sources like roads or industries and homes. This can include zoning regulations that restrict noisy activities in residential zones. 

iv) Traffic Management:  

Implementing traffic calming measures, like speed limits, traffic rerouting, and roundabouts, to reduce noise generated by vehicular traffic. 

v) Green Spaces:  

Create green spaces and parks within residential areas to act as noise buffers and improve overall quality of life. 

vi) Noise-Reducing Surfaces:  

Using noise-reducing surfaces, like porous pavement or rubberized asphalt, on roadways to minimize tire noise. 

vii) Green Belts:  

Planting vegetation or creating green belts alongside highways or railways to act as a natural sound barrier. 

b) Soundproofing Techniques for Outdoor Environments

In outdoor settings, excessive noise pollution can disrupt the tranquillity and serenity of your surroundings, be it at home or the workplace. To establish a more peaceful and serene outdoor space, consider implementing the following soundproofing strategies: 

i) Outdoor Noise Control

Construction of Noise Barriers or Fences: Erecting noise barriers or fences serves as an effective means of mitigating external noise. These structures work by blocking and absorbing intrusive sounds. 

1) Cultivating Noise-Reducing Vegetation:

The strategic selection and planting of foliage-rich plants can efficiently absorb and shield against noise. Thick foliage acts as a natural buffer. 

2) Development of Green Spaces:

The creation of green spaces provides a dual benefit. Not only do these areas offer aesthetic appeal, but they also serve as natural sound absorbers. Vegetation, in this context, plays a pivotal role in reducing and muffling noise. 

ii) Noise Reduction in Transportation
1) Exploration of Noise-Reducing Tires and Quieter Vehicle Designs:

Harnessing technological advancements in tire and vehicle design can yield a significant reduction in noise emissions stemming from transportation. 

2) Implementation of Sound Barriers Along Highways and Railways:

The strategic construction of sound barriers along major roadways and railway lines can effectively diminish the impact of noise on nearby communities. 

3) Strategies to Minimise Aircraft Noise Pollution:

Embracing initiatives such as flight path modifications and the utilization of quieter engines can play a pivotal role in curtailing the noise pollution associated with aeroplanes. 

c) Maintenance of Plant and Equipment:  

Regular upkeep of plant and machinery is imperative to prevent escalating noise levels. Identifying and rectifying issues like worn bearings, inadequate lubrication, loose parts, and imbalanced rotating components can significantly reduce noise. 

d) Involvement of Designers, Manufacturers, and Suppliers:  

Designers play a pivotal role in noise hazard minimization by integrating noise-reducing measures early in product planning. This entails disclosing noise emission values, adopting quieter materials, and devising acoustic solutions for noisy areas. 

e) Substitution of Equipment or Processes:  

A long-term effective strategy is instituting a procurement and hiring policy that favours quieter equipment. Gathering noise emission data from manufacturers, importers, and suppliers for comparison aids informed decision-making. 

f) Leveraging Administrative Measures:  

Administrative controls are designed to limit workers’ noise exposure duration. Tactics include scheduling to restrict exposure, prior notification of noisy work, provisioning quiet rest areas, and job rotation to minimize time spent in noisy zones.  

It is essential to recognise that administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) should complement other approaches, as they are less potent in risk mitigation compared to engineering solutions and process substitution. 

i) Regular Maintenance:

Ensuring proper maintenance of equipment and vehicles to reduce noise emissions from industrial or construction sites. 

ii) Public Awareness:

Educating the public about noise pollution and encouraging noise-conscious behaviour, such as reducing loud activities during nighttime hours. 

iii) Community Engagement:

Involving residents in the planning and decision-making process to address noise concerns and find tailored solutions. 

Anitech’s experienced Environmental Noise consultants can help organisations reduce environmental noise levels, thus, safeguarding workers’ health. 

Call us today for assistance at 1300 802 163 or e-mail – sales@anitechgroup.com.