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Integrating Environmental Noise Into ISO 14001


By David S. Cmar



Noise and ISO 14001

In the rush for companies to become ISO 14001 certified one area often overlooked that can receive attention in future audits is environmental noise and vibration.  While environmental engineers may be very comfortable with air, water and other waste management issues, noise and vibration is a unique phenomenon (acoustics) that is usually not an extensive portion of a person’s environmental training.  In fact, the first experience with noise for many environmental personnel comes only when faced with complaints or non-compliance results discovered after the fact. 


Addressing environmental noise in the context of your ISO 14001 program is no different than any other program issue.  The fundamentals of documentation control, management system auditing, operational control, control of records, management policies, audits, training, statistical techniques, and corrective and preventive action must still be addressed.  It is simply a matter of identifying the critical metrics by which procedures can be measured against, and developing a standardized approach to making decisions that impact the environmental goals for your company. 



Meeting and understanding local, state, or provincial noise legislation is one of the most easily overlooked area of environmental compliance.  When assessing compliance with other types of environmental discharges such as air emissions, wastewater or hazardous waste, they are usually controlled at the Federal/state or provincial level.  The basic principals of assessment and impact of these environmental pollutants are commonly understood and are part of the primary function of the environmental representative at the company.  This commonality rapidly comes apart when dealing with environmental noise regulations.


How do you ensure your company is compliant?

Do you know what types of ordinances may apply to your particular facility?  The answer is complicated by the varying types of ordinances that may be applicable at the state/provincial or municipal government levels. 


The primary types of issues relating to noise and vibration compliance that are of concern to industrial facilities are:


  • New equipment emission impact/approval

  • New facility impact assessment

  • Compliance with local land-use guidelines

  • Complaint driven inquires


In the United States most noise and vibration regulations exist only at the municipal level.  In fact, the only states that have regulations dealing with stationary source noise are Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Oregon.  And in Canada only Ontario has specific regulations governing approvals for new equipment/facilities at the provincial level.  All other jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada are governed by local municipal ordinances (if indeed one exists).


Continuous Improvement

Compliance is only on aspect of achieving and maintaining ISO 14001 status, the other is continuous improvement.  This part of the process is typically given much less consideration than the compliance aspects.  Many managers become complacent when their environmental engineer reports that they are compliant with existing regulations and pay little attention to plans to show improvement on existing issues.  There are several reasons why this part of the ISO process may be as, if not more, important than the current compliance status.  Some noise regulations are designed to ensure that as industry grows and adds processes, equipment and infrastructure the companies are expected to maintain, minimize or even improve the impact of their noise sources on the surrounding community.  This puts many companies in a difficult position of attempting to forecast not only their own growth and future plans but assess how changes in the surrounding community may impact their environmental compliance. 


Elements of a Well Designed ISO 14001 Noise Program

A well designed noise program must include: a commitment to continuous improvement, prevention of pollution, and compliance with legislation and regulations.  It must address specific quantifiable measures that form the basis for concrete decision-making.  As with other aspects of your ISO 14001 system, your noise program must be implemented, maintained, communicated within your organization.  Public input and/or participation in the process can also be considered.


Identify and Assess Existing Sources of Noise and Vibration - Many people can easily identify obvious potential environmental noise problems simply by walking along the property line and listening for distinctive sounds emanating from their facility.  This is useful in helping to understand the source of inquiries and complaints from impacted neighbors, but leaves a company unprepared to adequately respond to complaints.  By taking time to quantify and document the current noise sources, this will allow the plant to quickly assess whether complaints are related to existing equipment or a result of temporary changes to the facility such as equipment requiring maintenance.  By establishing a ‘baseline’ noise measurement, the facility has an opportunity to document not only the noise emitted by the plant but also provide a ‘snapshot’ of the existing ambient in the surrounding area.  This may prove important in protecting the company from blame for noise generated by changes to neighboring business, increased traffic, or encroachment from noise sensitive neighbors.


Develop a Plan for Improvement - After quantifying your current situation, your ‘baseline’ can serve as a basis for setting future objectives.  Objectives need to take into account not only relevant regulatory requirements, but also financial, operational and business requirements and the views of interested parties.  Interested parties may include people such as neighbors or interest groups affected by a company’s environmental noise.

Objectives need to be determined and specific targets set.  An objective may be as simple as ‘meeting or exceeding regulations’ or could be proactively aimed at reducing noise and vibration generated by your facility.  Objectives and targets are set by the organization, not necessarily by standards or regulatory compliance.  Once the targets and objectives are set, the organization needs to implement an environmental management plan.  Routine measurement and monitoring must be undertaken for sources which have been identified as having the potential for a significant impact on the environment.


New Equipment Assessment - Regardless of whether applicable regulations require it, all industrial facilities should assess the impact of any new equipment or processes, prior to installation.  By determining the potential impact of noise and vibration during the design phase, it allows a company the opportunity to minimize the adverse affect as well as potential costs associated with noise source mitigation.  Sometimes solutions may be as simple as relocating equipment to less sensitive noise areas prior to installation.  This can save thousands of dollars in retrofit noise attenuation measures. 


Complaint Procedure - Any industrial facility that is located in close proximity to noise sensitive neighbors such as residential neighborhoods, churches, schools or libraries will likely encounter complaints regarding noise, dust, odors etc.  How a company deals with these complaints can make the difference between thousands of dollars in unnecessary noise controls and being recognized as a proactive part of the community.  Develop a complaint receiving process that not only provides the company with defensible positions regarding noise and vibration (i.e. continuously assess compliance with regulatory standards) but is also inclusive of neighbors.  Noise by definition is ‘an unwanted sound’.  By keeping neighbors informed of changes to the facility and noise reduction efforts, it is likely the potential complaints will be eliminated because people will not be dealing with ‘unknown’ sounds.  Including the public and neighboring interests in your plan shows a commitment to considering the view of interested parties.


Planning for Noisy Activities - There are many noise generating activities that take place at industrial facilities that are particularly offensive to people because of their intermittent or infrequent nature as well as the time of day that they are performed.  Examples include shipping and receiving activities, material handling, process cleaning, and temporary construction activities.  By evaluating the impact that the noise from these activities has on affected parties at particular times of the day, it may be possible to adjust your business practices or schedules to minimize future complaints and compliance issues.


ISO 14001 is an effective means of creating a process to manage a complex and challenging issue such as environmental noise.  It allows companies to take a proactive approach to improving the environmental impact that industrial facilities have on the surrounding community and to ensure that there is a proper resource allocation for current and future noise abatement activities.  An effective program results in the consistent and systematic control of procedures and operations which can have a significant impact on the surrounding environment.  An environmental management system is concerned with compliance, but effective management is the real key. 



Mr. Cmar is the President of Phase To of Canada, Inc. and is also responsible for Business Development at Phase To, Inc.  Mr. Cmar has over 15 years of experience in environmental noise .  He can be reached at (519) 734-7001 and at davecmar@phasteo.com.  



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