Noise is an unavoidable part of everyday life. Whether we live in a town or the countryside, we are surrounded by noise most of the time. While we all contribute to that and must accept a certain degree of noise from others’ activities, some types of noise are unwelcome, especially at particular times and, in extreme cases, noise may have a damaging effect on our health.
The job of the environmental health practitioner (EHP) is to ensure that as far as practicable the degree of noise in the environment around us remains at a level that is not harmful to health.
There are several ways in which EHPs help to control the amount of noise in the environment. The ideal approach is to try and prevent excessive amounts of noise occurring in the first place, for example by advising on suitable noise limits when planning applications for new developments are being considered.
Where excessive noise does occur, EHPs can usually investigate and suggest solutions. In many cases, the person or business making the noise will be unaware they are causing a problem and it may be resolved by offering them advice on reducing the noise, or by getting them to talk with those living or working nearby to agree a mutually acceptable solution. Sometimes formal mediation can help in these situations.
If, however, a solution is not achievable by persuasion or negotiation and an EHP considers the noise to be so bad that it may be harmful to health, they may be able to take legal action under the statutory nuisance provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or other legislation.
In the longer term, EHPs are working to ensure that overall levels of noise in the environment are gradually reduced. Noise mapping is one of the tools employed in the UK and EU. It involves identifying the number of people affected by different sources and levels of ambient noise. This knowledge can help in the production of noise action plans to manage the noise, reduce levels where appropriate and promote tranquillity.
In March 2010 the Government published a Noise Policy Statement for England. The aim of the policy is to promote good health and a good quality of life through the management of noise within the context of Government policy on sustainable development. The CIEH has endorsed the Statement and has urged local authorities to adopt it, not only by embedding it across all their departments but also by promoting it among their communities.
CIEH publications on noise