Quieting your construction sites
Scott P Schneider
Thousands of construction workers in this country are hearing impaired because of their work, and thousands more are destroying their hearing because of their work in construction. In response to this, the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America has started the Construction Noise Control Partnership. This partnership is committed to ending this trend of rampant hearing loss among construction workers. It is comprised of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), other trade unions, contractors, public health organizations, government agencies, equipment manufacturers, academics (academia) and others.
Everyone knows construction sites are noisy. Most construction workers have suffered a significant hearing loss after working only 15-20 years at the trade. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that a 35 year old construction worker has the hearing of a 55 year old who has not been exposed to excessive noise on the job.
Noise hurts job safety
Noise can affect safety and communications on the jobsite. Background noise from machinery can make it difficult to hear backup alarms or to relay instructions. If a worker is hearing impaired, the situation is made even worse. Communication is vital to job site safety, and effective communication requires that people are able to hear and understand one another. Not hearing a "LOOK OUT BELOW!" warning from someone can literally mean the difference between life and death for a construction worker.
Noise hurts workers and families
Noise hurts people, their families and their quality of life. After years of noise-induced hearing loss, everyday tasks can become much more difficult. Talking on the telephone, watching television and conversing with family members become sources of stress for those with hearing impairments. Hearing loss can have a major impact on the quality of life and often leads to social withdrawal.
Noise hurts neighbourhoods
Noise can also affect your neighbors. More and more jurisdictions now have ordinances restricting noisy operations to daylight hours. As more highway construction is taking place at night to minimize delays for motorists, noise from construction may have to be reduced to prevent projects from being delayed.
Construction sites can be quieter
Although many in the industry believe that construction sites are inherently noisy, there are many ways in which they can be made quieter. (both for the operator and the environment)
- 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
manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make their equipment
quieter. Ask the manufacturers about the noise levels of their
equipment, and consider these levels when making your purchase. For
example, noise-reducing saw blades can reduce noise levels by 50
percent when cutting masonry blocks.
- Old equipment can be made quieter by simple retrofits, such as
adding new mufflers or sound absorbing materials. Check with the
manufacturer on ways to do this, or check the MSHA website for
information on retrofitting surface mining equipment- much of which
is also used in construction.
- Old equipment is also much quieter when it is well maintained.
Simple maintenance can reduce noise levels by as much as 50%.
- Noisy equipment should be sited as far away as possible from
workers and residents. Noise levels drop quickly with distance from
- 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 Construction Noise Control Partnership is developing a best practices guide explaining how to reduce noise on the jobsite and how to protect workers' hearing. The partnership is also developing standardized methods for measuring noise levels on jobsites in order to create a database of noise measurements. It will also be organizing a session on noise control at the National Conference on Ergonomics, Safety, and Health in Construction - to be held in May 2002 in Chicago.
As awareness of the impact that noise has on our industry and lives grows, we hope more will join us in the campaign for quieter construction sites. Our efforts will hopefully prevent the next generation of construction workers from suffering a hearing loss. For more information on the Construction Noise Control Partnership, or on the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America, contact Scott Schneider at +1 202-628-5465. In addition, there is a link to the partnership's web page on the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund website web www.lhsfna.org
The Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America is a joint labor-management organization affiliated with LIUNA, dedicated to improving safety and health on and off the job for LIUNA members and its signatory contractors.
Other Useful sites:
Burgess Noise Report from Western Australia
European Equipment Noise Levels Website
MSHA Surface Equipment Noise Control
NIOSH Noise Page
Noise Pollution Clearinghouse
Noise Conference Website
University of Washington Construction Noise
WISE EARS campaign
Worksafe Western Australia Noise Page
Scott P Schneider has a B.S. Degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, a Masters Degree in Zoology from the University of Michigan and a Masters Degree in Industrial Hygiene from the University of Pittsburgh. He is also a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). For the past 19 years, Scott has been doing occupational safety and health work for the Labor Movement, including five years as Ergonomics Program Director for the AFL-CIO’s Center to Protect Workers’ Rights. He has published several scientific articles and reviews on construction ergonomics and, recently, developed an ergonomics training module for building trades apprentices. His other main area of interest and expertise is preventing hearing loss among construction workers. Scott has been actively involved with OSHA over the regulation of asbestos exposures and respirators among other issues. He has conducted research under grants from NIOSH on ergonomic problems in construction and other topics. He is a member of numerous national committees on safety and health for the Building and Construction Trades Department, the AFL-CIO, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). He was recently elected as a Fellow member of AIHA, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field.
Labourers' Health and Safety Fund of North America
905 16th Street, NW - Washington, DC 20006,USA
Tel: +1 202-628-5465 Fax: +1 202-628-2613
Scott P Schneider paper, as well as other papers given at the "Preventing Hearing Loss in the Construction Trades: a best practices conference" was originally published on the web: www.lhsfna.org