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Published: October, 2008; Vol 5, Num 5

 

Noise in the City:

Laborers, Signatory Employers Seek
A Quieter New York

Long known for its loud, congested streets, New York City is now taking steps to change its image.

New York City Noise Mitigation Requirements

The complete list of migration plan requirements can be viewed in the Department of Environmental Protection Notice of Adoption of Rules for Citywide Noise Mitigation.

“In 2006, the City received a record 40,000 noise complaints on its hotline,” says Walter Jones, Associate Director of the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America’s Occupational Safety and Health Division. “Many of those calls concerned daytime jackhammer use, truck operations, pile driving and other noises associated with construction.”

The residents signaled that they wanted a quieter city, and as a result, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) updated the City’s environmental noise codes to address noise pollution. The new ordinance covers everything from loud car stereos to revved up motorcycles. 

The complete list of migration plan requirements can be viewed in the Department of Environmental Protection Notice of Adoption of Rules for Citywide Noise Mitigation. Also affected by the update are the regulations controlling construction noise. According to the New York City Department of Buildings, NYC has nearly 7,500 active building construction sites and close to 8,000 alteration and demolition sites. On any given day, construction contributes significantly to the high ambient noise level of the City. Addressing residents’ complaints, the new construction noise rules aim to control noise sources on construction sites, specifically, through quieter equipment and the use of noise barriers to prevent noise from escaping the worksite. The new regulations went into effect in July, 2007.

Among the most significant rules is the NYC DEP’s mandate that all contractors develop a noise mitigation plan for their sites prior to the start of construction. The plan must detail how the contractor intends to comply with the new code and list all noise reduction measures for equipment and operations that will be implemented. The plan must be posted on the worksite where it can be seen by all employees.

The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) and the New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Trust Fund< teamed up to make New York construction quieter for those both inside and outside the worksite. “Although high noise levels disturb area residents, high noise levels are a health and safety issue for New York City workers as well,” notes Jones.

In July, the two Funds and the General Contractors Association of New York (GCA) held a meeting with experts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the NYC DEP, a representative from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and local contractors to address the new noise codes. Depending on how compliance is achieved, the revised regulations could increase other hazards to workers or raise construction costs that are more difficult for medium and smaller contractors to absorb. The partnership seeks to promote quieter equipment and economical solutions to reduce noise while ensuring productivity.

While environmental noise control is an important issue, safely complying with the new rule is the chief concern of the Funds and union contractors. During the meeting, they discussed taking precautions to ensure that compliance would not put workers in even more hazardous situations. For example, any barriers used to isolate mason cutting cannot interfere with the ventilation necessary to reduce dust and silica exposure.

Betty Boop Toon

New York’s noise problems go back more than 70 years. Check out this Betty Boop cartoon from 1935.

Another issue discussed was the importance of the vendor list. The NYC DEP provided a Construction Noise Control Products and Vendor Guidance Sheet that offers contractors a variety of equipment that has been designed to reduce noise on the worksite. The guidance sheet lists products such as jackhammers, noise curtains, silencers, mufflers, pile drivers, dump trucks and more, along with vendor websites. “The goal is to have clear criteria for allowing vendors and quieter retro-fits on this list in order to foster a competitive market for noise reduction equipment,” Jones explains. “If this is successful in New York, then, hopefully, other cities will follow.”

The meeting also considered ways to help those signatory contractors who are unable to purchase the quieter pile drivers, find abatement measures to quiet existing equipment and comply with the rule. The Funds and GCA asked NIOSH to collect measurements to determine how the older pile drivers compare to pile driving systems referenced by the rule and to identify retro-fits that may help bridge the gap. The information gathered by NIOSH is still being reviewed and will be reported when available.

As the partnership continues its work of aiding Laborers and signatory contractors with compliance and making NYC a safer, quieter place to work and live, the LHSFNA offers a variety of noise control resources available on its website. Also, publications and pamphlets on noise hazards and control can be ordered from the Fund’s online catalogue.

[Jennifer E. Jones]