Noise Pollution Laws

Are there noise pollution laws or ordinances that restrict the noise that's bothering you?



If you are being bothered by a noise that is outside your control, you might wonder whether the noise is covered by a law or regulation that could help you get rid of it by fighting it with legal measures. The answer to that question depends on where you live and on the type of noise you're dealing with.

Noise pollution laws vary widely from country to country and even in different regions within the same country. If you can identify the category of noise you're concerned about, you can then contact the appropriate levels of government in your country, state or province, or community, to find out more about the laws related to your noise concern.

Categories of Noise

warning sign ear plugs required
Image courtesy of US Department of Labor

Workplace noise:

Noise in the workplace is commonly covered by labor regulations that spell out specific occupational limits for the lengths of time an employee may be exposed to noise of different decibel levels. These limits are based solely on the threat to hearing, not any other health effects of noise. Details of the limits vary, but this noise exposure chart, for example, shows the standard that is used in most Canadian provinces and in Australia. The regulations also mandate the measures to be taken as noise levels approach these limits, including engineering controls, educational and training programs, compulsory use of hearing protection devices, and regular hearing tests for exposed workers.

Environmental noise:

Environmental noise includes aircraft noise and roadway noise, two of the most serious contributors to noise pollution worldwide. In some countries, federal transportation bodies oversee the regulation of these noise emissions. These agencies typically must address the competing priorities of different interests, and concern for noise is just one of those factors. Where limits are established, compliance is not assured, since sufficient funding is not always provided for the implementation of control measures and the enforcement of standards.

Consumer product noise:

In some places, consumer products such as toys, home appliances, and sometimes motor vehicles are required to comply with noise standards. Mandatory product labeling is another way that consumer product noise may be regulated.

Community noise

(also called neighborhood noise or residential noise): This is the category that includes barking dogs, loud parties, and boom cars (vehicles with high-powered audio systems). It also includes industrial noise, noise from local businesses and their clientele, construction noise, and street noise. These types of noise problems are addressed by city and county ordinances, municipal bylaws, zoning restrictions, and state and local licensing bodies.

Each community addresses noise issues in its own way, and noise ordinances often reflect local concerns and peculiarities. Some are vague and subjective; others may explicitly define maximum decibel levels that are allowed at certain specified times of day, and give instructions for measuring and recording sound levels for the purpose of demonstrating an infraction. Sometimes a noise ordinance includes exceptions for particular activities, or a way is provided for obtaining a temporary exemption, such as permits for parades or music festivals.

Building noise transmission:

This category is concerned primarily with the transmission of noise rather than the generation of noise. In some states and/or cities, building codes require that new construction and remodeling projects for apartments, hospitals, and/or hotels conduct an acoustic analysis to assure that the occupants are protected from excessive sound levels, whether coming from inside or outside the building.

Penalties

Businesses that violate noise pollution laws or regulations may be fined or may lose their license to operate. Individuals who violate noise laws or restrictions may be subject to fines resulting from civil or criminal lawsuits. In some cases law enforcement agencies have the authority to seize equipment that is causing excessive noise, such as stereo equipment, musical instruments, or powered lawn tools. Individuals can be evicted from their homes if their activity violates a lease agreement or community covenant.

Enforcement of Noise Pollution Control Laws

Where noise pollution laws and restrictions are in place, enforcement is often inconsistent. Noise is typically regarded as a nuisance rather than a health hazard or safety issue, so noise issues are given lower priority. Many agencies lack the funding and personnel necessary to carry out their enforcement roles. In addition, noise is unlike other types of pollution in that it is invisible and highly intermittent, making noise infractions difficult to prove. Measurements must be taken with the proper equipment at the right times and the right places in order to document a noise violation.





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