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Controlling Noise on Construction Sites

Introduction

Controlling construction noise can pose special problems for contractors. Unlike general industry, construction activities are not always stationary and in one location. Construction activities often take place outside where they can be affected by weather, wind tunnels, topography, atmosphere and landscaping. Construction noise makers, e.g., heavy earth moving equipment, can move from location to location and is likely to vary considerably in its intensity throughout a work day

High noise levels on construction worksites can be lowered by using commonly accepted engineering and administrative controls. This booklet is filled with tips other contractors and have used to lower the noise levels on construction worksites. Normally, earplugs and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE) are used to control a worker’s exposure to noisy equipment and work areas. However, as a rule, engineering and administrative controls should always be the preferred method of reducing noise levels on worksites. Only, when these controls are proven unfeasible, earplugs as a permanent solution should be considered.

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls modify the equipment or the work area to make it quieter. Examples of engineering controls are: substituting existing equipment with quieter equipment; retro-fitting existing equipment with damping materials, mufflers, or enclosures; erecting barriers; and maintenance.

Administrative Controls

These are management decisions on work activities, work rotation and work load to reduce workers’ exposure to high noise levels. Typical management decisions that reduce worker exposures to noise are: moving workers away from the noise source; restricting access to areas; rotating workers performing noisy tasks; and shutting down noisy equipment when not needed.

Personal Protective Equipment

Earplugs are the typical PPE given to workers to reduce their exposure to noise. Earplugs are the control of last resort and should only be provided when other means of noise controls are infeasible. As a general rule, workers should be using earplugs whenever they are exposed to noise levels of 85 dB (A) or when they have to shout in order to communicate.

Construction sites can be quieter

Although many in the construction industry believe that construction sites are inherently noisy, there are many ways in which they can be made quieter.

  • Sometimes a quieter process can be used. For example: Pile driving is very loud. Boring is a much quieter way to do the same work.
  • New equipment is generally much quieter than old equipment. Some equipment manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make their equipment quieter. Ask equipment manufactures about the noise levels of their equipment and consider these levels when making your purchase. For example, noise-reducing saw blades can cut noise levels in half when cutting masonry blocks.
  • Old equipment can be made quieter by simple modifications, such as adding new mufflers or sound absorbing materials.
  • Old equipment is also much quieter when it is well maintained. Simple maintenance can reduce noise levels by as much as 50%.
  • Noisy equipment can be sited as far away as possible from workers and residents. Noise levels drop quickly with distance from the source.
  • Temporary barriers/enclosures (e.g. plywood with sound absorbing materials) can be built around noisy equipment. These barriers can significantly reduce noise levels and are relatively inexpensive.

The Major Noise Sources on Construction Worksites

On construction worksites there are many different noise sources and these sources exhibit many differing types of noise such as background noise, idling noise, blast noise, impact noise, rotating noise, intermittent noise, howling, screeches and squeals that need to be controlled.

Fortunately, the noise levels of common construction noise sources are well-known. Below are the noise levels of common construction.

Equipment Sound Level at Operator Sound Level at Operator
  Average Range
Background* 86  
Earthmoving    
Front End Loader 88 85-91
Backhoe 86.5 79-81
Bulldozer 96 89-103
Roller 90 79-93
Scraper 96 84-102
Grader <85  
Truck 96 89-103
Paver 101 100-102
Material Handling    
Concrete Mixer <85  
Concrete Pump < 85  
Crane 100 97-102
Derrick <85  
Power Units    
Generators <85
Compressors <85  
Impact    
Pile Driver (diesel and pneum.) 98 82-105
Pile Driver (gravity, bored) 82.5 62-91
Pneumatic Breaker 106 94-111
Hydraulic Breaker 95.5 90-100
Pneumatic Chipper 109  
Other Equipment    
Poker Vibrator 94.5 87-98
Compressed Air Blower 104  
Power Saw 88.5 78-95
Electric Drill 102  
Air Track Drill 113  

*British Columbia, “Construction Noise,” Workers Compensation Board of BC

 

Noise Standards Noise Level
OSHA (at workers ear) 90 dB (A)
Day Time Community (at property line) 65 dB (A)

Bystander exposure to worksite noise is common in construction. Workers are as likely to be exposed from noise generated by other workers or trades, as they are to be exposed to noise generated by their own work. Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)* ranked the basic construction equipment in order of noise severity and ranked the equipment by noise severity and proximity to workers and people. The noise levels were measured 50 feet from the equipment. The results of SAE’s noise impact ranking (NIR) are presented below. Ranking of 1 is more hazardous than 2.

Reviewing the tables, Impact equipment was the biggest noise hazard to operators and workers nearby while Earth Moving equipment exposed a greater number to noise hazards.

 

Equipment Ranking
Trucks 1
Scrapers 1
Tractors 1
Back Hoes 1
Front End Loaders 2
Graders 2
Compactors 2
Cranes 3
Generators 3
Pumps 3
Compressors 3
Concrete Pumps 3
Pavers 3

*SAE, Noise Abatement techniques for Construction Equipment, Cambridge 1979.

Effective Practical Solutions to Controlling Noise on Construction Worksites

Every construction project is different and constantly changing. Therefore, noise control solutions have to be tailored for the situation. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways by which construction equipment and worksite noise can be controlled. The following is a list of ways to control noise level your worksites.

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