Quantifying Environmental Noise: Methods and Tools 

20/05/2024by admin0Read: 8 minutes

Noise pollution, stemming from sources like transportation, industry, and neighbourhood activities in urban areas, disrupts daily life. The extent of disturbance depends on factors such as noise type, timing, duration, and frequency. It significantly affects both the health and productivity of employees of businesses, as well as affects the quality of life and health, necessitating inclusion in planning and pollution control strategies for businesses.

Health-focused guidelines like WHO’s “Guidelines for Community Noise” and “The Health Effects of Environmental Noise – Other than Hearing Loss” highlight the health risks tied to environmental noise. Research supports the benefits of access to quiet spaces like parks and reserves in reducing noise-related stress.

In light of population growth and urban density increases, meticulous residential development planning is crucial to mitigate noise exposure. Neighbourhood noise is a common concern, often leading to disputes. In NSW, local councils, NSW Police, Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) manage noise complaints. The Noise Guide for Local Government offers valuable counsel to councils, providing practical insights into effectively addressing common noise issues.

Noise Complaints

Numerous councils possess data concerning the volume and nature of noise-related inquiries they receive. However, a comprehensive dataset encompassing the total number of calls received by all 152 councils in New South Wales remains unavailable.

It’s worth noting that both the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and New South Wales Police maintain records on the quantity and categories of calls they receive. Selected portions of the accessible data are presented below for your reference.

Legal Framework for Noise Control

The legal framework for managing unacceptable noise is primarily governed by the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) and the Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2008 (Noise Control Regulation). The key provisions of the POEO Act include:

1) Regulatory Authority Identification:

Section 6 of the Act specifies the authority responsible for regulating noise.

2) Noise Definitions:

The Act’s Dictionary section defines terms like ‘noise’ and ‘offensive noise’ for clarity.

3) Regulatory Tools:

It provides a range of regulatory tools to manage noise, including Noise Control Notices, Prevention Notices, Noise Abatement Directions, and Noise Abatement Orders, as detailed in Part 4 of this Guide.

4) Offenses and Licensing:

The Act makes it an offence to breach the conditions of a Notice, Direction, or Order. It also mandates that certain activities listed in Schedule 1 be licensed by the EPA.

5) Prescribed Offenses:

It specifies offences such as selling articles emitting excessive noise, selling articles lacking prescribed noise control equipment, and more.

6) Powers of Authorised Officers:

The Act grants authorised officers appointed by the EPA, NSW Police officers, marine park rangers, and RMS officers specific powers related to inspections, testing, and enforcement.

7) Intruder Alarm Control:

It enables authorised officers to address excessive intruder alarms in buildings and motor vehicles.

8) Regulation Empowerment:

The Act allows for the creation of regulations to support its objectives, provided they align with the Act.

Moreover, the POEO Act and the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009 (POEO General Regulation) assign certain agencies, including local councils, the EPA, the Marine Parks Authority, and RMS, as the appropriate regulatory authorities (ARA) for various premises and activities. These agencies are empowered to designate their officers as authorised officers to exercise regulatory functions in these domains, including the issuance of noise abatement directions. Additionally, the POEO Act designates NSW Police as authorised persons for the issuance of noise abatement directions.

This comprehensive legal framework ensures the effective management and control of noise-related issues in various contexts.

Role of ARA in Noise Control

The Appropriate Regulatory Authority (ARA) is the governing body entrusted with the oversight and regulation of specific premises and activities. In its capacity, the ARA holds the authority to issue various notices, including Prevention Notices, Noise Control Notices, and Compliance Cost Notices, specifically pertaining to the activities and premises under its purview. It’s important to note that these notices can only be issued by the ARA responsible for the respective activities and premises. This delineation of responsibilities ensures a structured and effective regulatory process.

Local Councils

Section 6 of the POEO Act designates local councils as the Appropriate Regulatory Authority (ARA) for all premises and activities within their respective local government areas, except for those specifically assigned to other ARAs, as detailed below. This allocation ensures that local councils are responsible for overseeing a broad range of activities within their jurisdiction, promoting efficient local governance.

Environment Protection Authority (EPA)

Section 6 of the POEO Act designates the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) as the Appropriate Regulatory Authority (ARA) for several key categories:

1) Scheduled Activities:

The EPA oversees premises where scheduled activities listed in Schedule 1 of the POEO Act occur. These typically pertain to large industrial sites.

2) Environment Protection Licenses:

The EPA takes charge of premises and activities covered by environmental protection licenses, specifically for the regulation of water pollution.

3) State or Public Authority Activities:

The EPA has jurisdiction over activities conducted by state or public authorities, whether at their premises or elsewhere. This includes noise management related to activities like public school operations or local council road works.

Furthermore, under the POEO General Regulation, the EPA is the ARA for certain non-scheduled activities that may involve noise issues, such as those along the Inner West Light Rail route, large outdoor entertainment activities, specific sporting activities at state facilities, and other activities like large plants involved in rock and bituminous material mixing, substantial concrete batching plants, and select mobile plants.

Clause 87 of the POEO General Regulation pertains to Kosciuszko National Park and designates the EPA as the ARA for:

1) Non-Scheduled Activities: The EPA holds authority over non-scheduled activities in this park.

2) Scheduled Activities and Licenses: Additionally, the EPA assumes regulatory responsibility for premises featuring scheduled activities, those covered by environment protection licenses, and activities conducted by state or public authorities within the park.

These delineations ensure a well-structured and effective regulatory framework across various activity types and locations.

Olympic Park Authority

Clause 90A of the POEO General Regulation 2009 designates the Olympic Park Authority as the Appropriate Regulatory Authority (ARA) responsible for overseeing entertainment activities conducted at Olympic Park, provided these activities are not conducted by the state or a public authority. This specification ensures a well-defined regulatory framework for entertainment endeavours within Olympic Park.

Marine Parks Authority

According to Clause 84 of the POEO General Regulation, the Marine Parks Authority assumes the role of the Appropriate Regulatory Authority (ARA) for activities and premises situated within marine parks. However, it’s important to note exceptions:

When the EPA serves as the ARA, which applies to premises with scheduled activities, those covered by an environmental protection license, and activities conducted by state or public authorities.

This clear distinction ensures a streamlined and effective regulatory framework within marine park areas.

Roads and Maritime Services (RMS)

Clause 86 of the POEO General Regulation designates RMS as the Appropriate Regulatory Authority (ARA) for activities related to non-pilotage vessels in navigable waters. However, there are exceptions to this:

  1. When the EPA serves as the ARA, which applies to premises with scheduled activities, those covered by an environmental protection license, and activities conducted by state or public authorities.
  2. When the Marine Parks Authority acts as the ARA, encompassing non-scheduled activities within marine parks.

Please note that non-pilotage vessels include, among others, vessels outside designated ports, recreational vessels, those less than 30 meters in length, vessels over 30 meters exempt from pilotage requirements, and sea planes operating within designated ports. Detailed information is available in section 4.3.4 of the regulations. This clear delineation of responsibilities ensures a well-organised regulatory framework.

Current Noise Condition

The licensed premises must adhere to specific noise level restrictions as outlined below:

1) Between 7:00 am and 12:00 midnight, the LA10* noise level emitted from the licensed premises must not exceed the background noise level in any Octave Band Centre Frequency (ranging from 31.5Hz to 8kHz inclusive) by more than 5dB at the boundary of any affected residence.

2) Between 12:00 midnight and 7:00 am, the LA10* noise level emitted from the licensed premises must not exceed the background noise level in any Octave Band Centre Frequency (31.5Hz–8kHz inclusive) at the boundary of any affected residence.

Additionally, it’s imperative that, regardless of compliance with the above conditions, the noise from the licensed premises remains inaudible within any habitable room in any residential premises from 12:00 midnight to 7:00 am.

For the purpose of this requirement, the LA10 can be considered as the average maximum deviation of the noise emission from the licensed premises.

Please note that these regulations represent the minimum standard, and in certain situations, the Director may specify an earlier time than midnight for compliance with the above condition.

Furthermore, it is important to emphasise that interior noise levels that still surpass safe hearing levels are not endorsed or tolerated by the Director.

Environment Protection Regulations and Residential Noise

The Environment Protection Regulations of 2021 comprehensively address specific noise sources. These sources, categorised as ‘prescribed items’ within the Regulations, encompass a wide spectrum, ranging from electric power tools to air conditioners. Furthermore, the Regulations delineate prohibited timeframes for noise emanating from these prescribed items. Noise is deemed unreasonable when it transpires during these restricted hours and is perceptible to occupants in habitable rooms of neighbouring residences.

For reference, habitable rooms encompass all rooms in a dwelling except for kitchens, pantries, bathrooms, toilets, laundry rooms, and storage areas.

It’s crucial to note that residential noise, even beyond the stipulated items and hours in the Regulations, remains subject to evaluation by a Council residential noise enforcement officer. Their assessment ensures that noise complaints are judiciously addressed and resolved.

Exceptions to Prohibited Times

The designated restricted hours outlined in the Regulations have exceptions in specific circumstances:

1) Emergency Equipment Usage:

These restrictions do not apply when utilising equipment during an emergency.

2) Air Conditioners on Health Alert Days:

You are permitted to use your air conditioner even during Department of Health and Human Services heat health alert days without adhering to the prohibited times.

It’s important to note that, despite a health heat alert, excessive noise from an air conditioner can still be considered unreasonable if a residential noise enforcement officer deems it to be unduly disruptive to the community. This underscores the importance of responsible and considerate use of air conditioning systems.

Prohibited Times for Noise

The Environment Protection Regulations 2021 categorise prescribed items into groups, each with its respective prohibited times:

  • Group 1: Includes motor vehicles (except when entering or leaving a site), vessels, lawnmowers, and other grass-cutting devices, among others.
  • Group 2: Comprises electric power tools, chainsaws, and gas or air compressors, among others.
  • Group 3: Encompasses swimming pool and spa pumps, home heaters, and vacuum cleaners, among others.
  • Group 4: Includes air conditioners and evaporative coolers used for cooling.
  • Group 5: Covers musical instruments and electrical audio goods, such as stereos and radios.
  • Group 6: Encompasses electrical equipment not in the previous groups, such as gardening tools, and excludes personal care or grooming devices or those used for food heating, cooling, or preparation.

Understanding these regulations and prohibited times is crucial for maintaining harmonious residential environments while respecting the well-being of all residents. Compliance with these guidelines ensures a peaceful coexistence within communities.

Methods to Quantify Environmental Noise

The various methods to quantify environmental noise include the following:

1) Noise Monitoring:

Noise monitoring involves placing microphones at strategic locations to record ambient noise levels. This data is then analysed to understand variations, sources, and trends.

2) Octave Band Analysis:

This method breaks down noise into different frequency bands, making it easier to identify specific noise sources and their contributions to the overall noise environment.

3) LAeq (Equivalent Continuous Noise Level):

This metric represents the equivalent continuous noise level over a specified period, typically an hour. It helps assess the overall impact of noise.

4) LA10 (Percentile Noise Level):

LA10 represents the noise level exceeded for 10% of the measurement period. It is useful for assessing intermittent noise events.

5) Sound Mapping:

Geographic Information System (GIS) tools are employed to create noise maps. These maps visualise noise levels across different areas, aiding in urban planning and infrastructure development.

Tools for Noise Quantification

Several tools and technologies are used in Australia to quantify environmental noise:

1) Noise Dosimeters:

These portable devices worn by individuals measure personal exposure to noise levels, helping assess the impact on workers and residents.

2) Noise Prediction Software:

Advanced software models help predict noise levels based on factors such as traffic flow, building design, and land use. These predictions assist in planning and compliance.

3) Noise Monitoring Stations:

Permanent or temporary monitoring stations equipped with microphones and data loggers collect noise data over time.

4) Noise Mapping Software:

GIS-based software allows for the creation of noise maps, aiding in visualising noise levels across different areas.

For more information, stay tuned to our website.


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