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National Conference to Prevent Hearing Loss in Construction:


Address: Preventing Hearing Loss in the Construction Trades: A Best Practices Conference

Federal Environmental Agency
Berlin, Germany

Alternate description

DR. IRMER: I hope it works. Otherwise, I have to speak a little louder.

I have a very difficult job after the paper given by Don Garvey, and as I am not a native speaker, it is double difficult, of course, for me, but I will try my very best, and hopefully, you will get some information on what is going on in the European Union and in Germany.

First of all, I do not want to talk about hearing protection. This is for me always the last measure, and I think it is principally the real very last measure. Priority has to have the reduction at the source, noise reduction at the source, and that is what I am working with, what I am working for in the Environmental Agency. That is why we have got the Blue Angel Program in Germany.

So let me just have an overview about what I want to talk on. This is, at first, the problem of construction noise. That means, of course, hearing losses. Then the real situation in Germany and Europe, I am afraid I will tell you something about Europe because of the time. The next is some general information on the Blue Angel Award, then the Blue Angel Award for construction machines, with some examples that I think are very important, and then at last a short summary.

Occupational diseases are a big problem in Germany's industry. It is estimated that the total amount of costs due to occupational diseases and accidents at work and on the way to and from work is equal to nearly 24 billion German marks every year. This is about 2 percent of the national gross income and a high burden to industry and national economy.

[Dr. Irmer left the microphone and a portion of his presentation could not be transcribed.]

DR. IRMER: Starting in the early '60s with, I think, 20 new pensions in the year, it increased up to 3,500 new pensions a year due to hearing loss at the work station, and it is now just 1,000, 1,200. It is just 2,000.

If you look now at these numbers here, you will see that occupational diseases in 1989, the number of new pensions in '99 is or all branches of industry and all occupational diseases, some 6,000. Of these due to hearing loss, 1,000, and if you look at burning and construction site, it is near one-sixth, but here it is a fifth. If you look at it, that only about 8 percent of the employed people are working in the burning and construction industry, the percentage of burning laborers who get compensation because of hearing loss is more than 20 percent. That means it must be very loud on the construction site.

Noise from construction equipment is not only a problem of working place, but also of environmental noise, as construction sites are often situated very near to noise-sensitive areas like dwellings, schools, hospitals and so on, and as construction workers often have to perform during noise-sensitive times like in the evening and during the night. The noise by the construction site is one of the high-ranking problems in the communities.

So now let me tell you something about the European regulations, and we will start from down here, directly on protection from noise at work. That is the title of this regulation, this directive.

This directive lays down that noise at the workplace shall be assessed. That is the first one. The daily personal noise exposure should not exceed 85 dBA, exchange rate of 3. That where 85 is exceeded, the appropriate information must be provided to the worker.

Where 90 dBA is exceeded, the information must take the form of an appropriate sign at the working place. When 90 dBA is exceeded, personal ear protectors must be used, and that hearing tests have to be performed. That, I think, is something we heard in the last days, but it is a directive in Europe. That means it is law in all states of the European Union. There are 15 member states.

The directive relating to machinery states is that machinery must be so designed and constructed that risks resulting from the emission of airborne noise is reduced to the lowest level, taking into account technical progress and availability of means to reduce noise; in particular, at the source.

Moreover, the machinery must be accompanied by instructions, including information on the equivalent continuous A-rated sound pressure level at the ear of the worker. The sound power level emitted by the machinery, if this sound pressure level at the work station exceeds 85, and the peak C-rated sound pressure level at the work station if it exceeds 63.

Legislation on environmental noise and at the work station at least as far as noise emission is concerned has the same objections and complements one another. Reduction of the overall environmental noise emission of construction machines is the benefit to all of the workplace at the construction site where other employees are working.

[Dr. Irmer left the microphone and a portion of his presentation could not be transcribed.]

DR. IRMER: Activities concerning noise emission limitation became necessary in the late 1970's because some member states in the European Community had national legislation of noise emission from construction machines or wanted to prepare such legislation. European harmonization of national legislation was needed to avoid barriers of trade affecting the smooth functioning of the European common market. That is the aim of the old directives. It is the aim to avoid barriers to trade and to have a smooth functioning of the European common market. There is nothing said about environment. If there are some environmental issues, okay, but the main issue was avoid barriers to trade.

A working group in the European Commission Communities, the old name, European Communities, worked on directives concerning the noise emission in the environment from construction machines, and in the late '70s and the early '80s, we had some directives on compressors, powertrains, power generators, handheld breakers and picks. All of these machines had to be labeled with a guaranteed noise level. That means with the sound power level manufacturer guarantees you if you buy it, and they all had to meet noise limits.

In the last 4, 5 years, we had some changes in this idea that we only deal with barriers to trade. The Treaty of the European Union says that the Commission in its proposal concerning health, safety, and environmental protection will take as base a high level of protection, taking into account in particular any development based on scientific facts. That means they have to look at what is now the most, the best. They have to look within their respective power departments and constables of these objectives. That means that it is not only avoiding barriers to trade, but it is to achieve protection for health and safety.

Under this, we will have a new directive. I think it will be signed in 2 months or something like this, by the Parliament and the Council, dealing with noise emissions from equipment for use outdoors.

That is a bit complicated, but exactly what is meant. This will be a directive concerning a lot of machines, a lot of gardening machines, and some machines like sweepers and things like this.

If we now look at some figures in the market, we can see something like this. These are noise emission values. That means sound power levels of loaders that we got from the Dutch Government.

You can see there is a big spread of noise emission values. For instance, here, you have at least 50 dBA spread, and this is becoming a standard, really, because why is this manufacturer producing a machine that is so low noise and the other up here a machine that is so loud? I do not know.

So we have several of these clouds. We have for loaders, for excavators, for dozers, and things like this, and now the European Commission had to set limits and they did it in this way. This will be the new limits, and you see that from a total number of 138 machines, 27,

So let me now come to the Blue Angel. The responsible governmental administration is very much interested in --

[Dr. Irmer left the microphone and a portion of his presentation could not be transcribed.]

As member states are not allowed to reduce the noise limits of European legislation, other instruments, especially economic instruments, must be found to influence the market and the manufacturer directions towards low noise.

One may argue that is a manufacturer of low noise corrections themselves be interested in giving the information concerning the environmental [unintelligible] to the public and convince the purchaser to buy these low-noise products. Indeed, some of the manufacturers have on their own responsibility put marks or labels on their machines indicating that these products are low noise. However, these labels rather led to confusion of the purchaser sa no criteria was laid down how to understand the communication of low noise or green machines or whatever, environmentally friendly machines. Without any criteria, that is nothing.

[Dr. Irmer left the microphone and a portion of his presentation could not be transcribed.]

DR. IRMER: Everybody has the right to submit new proposals to the Federal Environmental Agency for which products he wants to have a Blue Angel, and it is a very complicated process how the basic criteria, as we call it, for such an award is elaborated.

You will see proposals. Then there are comments. Then there is a jury, environmental labor jury, who decides whether this product should have an award or not. At the end of this, there is a publication [unintelligible], and this exactly lays down for this type of equipment which criteria has to be met if a manufacturer wants to have this award.

Then if a manufacturer wants to have the Blue Angel Award, he has to do an application for this award that goes to the [unintelligible]. That is the association that gives the award. Then there is a technical check by the [unintelligible]. That is the Federal Environmental Agency. That is us. If these two checks, one from the former check and the technical checks, are okay, then there is a contract with the manufacturer. The manufacturer now may use the Blue Angel for marketing purposes.

Very importantly, he has to pay for it. That is not just fun. He has to pay to get an award, and the manufacturers do. That is what is surprising.

The Blue Angel requirements are normally 6 to 10 lower than the limit value than you get from the European legislation. I have got here, for instance, an example for wheel loaders, existing legislation. If you have a power range lower than 50, then you have a limit.

DR. IRMER: [In progress] -- than the limits, and here it is 85 and 79. That means you have to compare these both at 60 dB less. That means you have, in any case, to meet the limits. That is law. That is the law. These are the regulations, and you cannot put a machine in the market that does not meet the limits, but if you want to have the Blue Angel Award, you must be, in this case, 70 dB down.

So I have told you that they have to pay for it. Nevertheless, the manufacturer has to pay for it. Nevertheless, it works.

If you see this year, starting in 1998, we had perhaps one machine, and it is going up and up and up. Now we have some 200, 220 machine contracts with manufacturers for awards that they may use the Blue Angel as a sign on the machine.

What we want to do in the next time is that we will have some new or extended legislation in Germany for the use of this equipment. That means you are able to use the machine that meets the limits, but if you want to use the machine near a hospital, near a school, or during nighttime and the evening time, then you have to use the Blue Angel machine. That is our idea, what we will do as legislation in the next year perhaps.

If you wanted to have some more detailed information, that booklet here [unintelligible]. Fortunately, it is also in English, "Low Noise Construction Has a Future," and I have brought with me, I think, some 20 of them. If you want to have them, hurry up, but you can get the same information on the Blue Angel on the Internet.

PARTICIPANT: Could you spell that, please?



DR. IRMER: So now let me give you some examples of what there has been done. I have just looked for my paper. I do not know all of these by heart.

This is O & K loader with, I think, some 50 kw. It has a value of 88 sound power level. That means it is 6-dBA less than it should be from the noise limits.

I am just looking through all of my papers.

[Dr. Irmer left the microphone and a portion of his presentation could not be transcribed.]

DR. IRMER: I cannot find it. So I will try to do it without this paper. That is Atlas. That is the next one. That is Atlas, not Atlas Copco, but Atlas. That is the German Atlas, and this is an advertising sheet. They show exactly over here the Blue Angel. That means these machines meet the Blue Angel criteria. They, again, are around 88 sound power level, and the limit is some 94. That means this manufacturer only produces machines, construction machines that meet the criteria of the Blue Angel, and that, of course, is what we want. We do not want to have a kit or something like this to make a lot of money. We want manufacturers that they only produce low-noise machines, like these do.

The next one -- and this for me is very pleasant -- is a Caterpillar. That is not a German manufacturer. It is some of yours. It comes from the U.S. That is a little bit astonishing.


DR. IRMER: It is a very large one. I think 140 kw, and it is exactly, again, 6- or 7-dBA lower than the limits.

[Dr. Irmer left the microphone and a portion of his presentation could not be transcribed.]

DR. IRMER: So the next one, you should see it is not only loaders, but it is other things, too. It is a compressor from trmer & Elze. That is not fond or whatever from me, and I don't -- okay. This is a very low-noise compressor, and it is, again, I think 8-dB lower than the limits No, it is even more. It is 12-dB below the limits. It is 88 sound power level, and it could have 100. That is a lot of stuff.

The next one is -- sorry, again, it is the Caterpillar, an excavator. You see here the Blue Angel Award. Can you see it? No, I think not. This is an excavator that the legal limit for it is 108, and this makes 99, nearly 10-dB down.

We have another one that is the German one. It is Nobas. That is one of the manufacturers from the former Eastern Germany. They are doing very well in this array, and it is 101. You see down here, 101, and the limit is 111, again 10-dB down.

The next one is the powertrain, BKT, also a former East German -- BKT. Its limit is 102. This has 88, 14-dB less.

I think now we will have the last one. This is a Vietz power generator. Here, you may see the Blue Angel on the machine. It was during the last BAUMA in Munich, 2 years ago, when they got the award, and this machine makes 85 and allowed is 100, but this, I think, is very sophisticated. It has a gas motor. You may use gas, natural gas. So that, it is not only environmentally friendly from the standpoint of noise, but also from the emissions and they have done a lot. It costs a lot, of course, to get things so low noise. I think it is some 20 percent of the whole price of the machine, but it is 15 dBA. That is a lot.

So what I wanted to show you or to tell you is that we in Europe have the legislation that limits the emission of some construction machines, but that we think that the limits are set on a political level too high, and that we need something that manufacturers who have the skill, who do know how to produce low-noise machinery have an advantage. So that, they may sell it in the marketplace, put it in the marketplace, sell it in the marketplace, because if you have a silent machine or a low-noise machine, that is it.

[Dr. Irmer left the microphone and a portion of his presentation could not be transcribed.]

DR. IRMER: We want manufacturers to produce more and more and more low-noise machines.

Thank you very much.


MR. FOWLER: Low-noise machine, high-volume paper.


MR. FOWLER: Dr. Irmer, thank you very much. We appreciate you coming all this way and sharing your papers.

DR. IRMER: Thank you very much for inviting me.

MR. FOWLER: We have given you a double chore here. You not only have to get your government regulations. You have got to get through Customs with that, so good luck.

DR. IRMER: You know that we have the same, or nearly the same, provisions, but if you tell me that it is worth less than $10, then I will take it with me. I will believe you and will take it with me. Otherwise, I have to give it to my boss.

MR. FOWLER: Lisa, how much is that worth? $9.99?

$9.99, no doubt about it.


MR. FOWLER: I just want to comment real quickly. I have lived in Germany as an Army commander, and I had a large German work force. I think the difference, and it is something that I think we have talked a little bit about here today, is that culturally in Germany, they care a whole lot more about their work force as a culture. They take care of their people.

In my organization, and I was under American rules over there, we had a work council of German workers that I had to consult when I made decisions. That was not a union thing. That was the German law, and it worked. Everybody adapted to it, and we took care of our workers. It is the same thing throughout Germany.

Caterpillar is doing this over in Germany because it is a profitable thing for them to do over there. It is important to them over there, and if we are going to make progress in this area, it seems to me it has got to become important to us over here as a culture to take care of our workers. From the Government level on down, it has got to become important.

So thank you very much for that. We appreciate it.

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