Noise pollution, particularly in urban environments, is an area of growing concern. Fortunately, the volume is being turned down at large industrial sites.
You might think of noise pollution as a mere annoyance. Loud construction work on city streets, for example, is usually no more than a temporary, frustrating distraction – most often departing from our daily lives as swiftly as it enters. We may also associate the phrase with loud music being played in public places, an imposition for the more sensitive passersby. Distracting yes, but hardly a social problem worth discussing on the governmental level.
But in fact, noise pollution is a more serious and potentially dangerous problem than is commonly understood. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in five residents of the EU is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage their health.
Clear evidence is growing that noise may cause emotional responses such as anger, anxiety and depression, particularly when in relation to sleep disturbance. In the case of children, exposure to excessive noise has been linked to such conditions as learning difficulties, and motivation and attention deficits. Some researchers have even suggested a connection to heart disease.
The perception of noise as a problem deserving of legislative attention began in the 1970s, when the EU first launched a directive on vehicle noise. In the same decade, the first noise-related laws were enacted in certain US states.
Despite developments like these, by the late 2000s, the number of documented noise pollution complaints had nevertheless reached staggering figures. In the UK alone, councils reported receiving complaints about noise pollution from private residences in the hundreds of thousands. High-profile court cases reached as high as the European Court of Human Rights. The general public had clearly woken up to the problem. And they weren’t alone.
THE INDUSTRIAL RESPONSE
In industry too, concerns have gradually risen in step with those of the general public. As well as the impact of industrial sites on neighboring residential areas, there is the effect of noise on machinery operators and other personnel to consider. Konecranes has been a forerunner in noise reduction technology in the lifting industry, recognizing the rising tide of both social and industrial awareness.
Ari Nieminen, Chief R&D Engineer for the Port Cranes business unit at Konecranes, charts the growth of concern over noise and describes the core noise-related issues in Konecranes’ lifting equipment:
“Noise is problematic in two main ways. The most pressing dimension is environmental noise. Here the current tendency is to apply more and more strict requirements, to port areas in particular. This has been a growing concern worldwide over the last decade, driving the need for equipment suppliers to create less noisy machines.
“Then there is the question of occupational health in the workplace,” he continues. “Operators in crane cabins, of course, experience noise in their daily work most of the time, but there are also the assisting workers around the crane to take into account, as well as the service technicians visiting the machinery rooms.”
In response to this multi-faceted challenge, Konecranes has been placing an ever-increasing emphasis on noise reduction in its R&D work. In a world that is gradually becoming more aware of the problem, this is becoming a point of differentiation for the company.
In Oslo, for example, the city’s highly active harbor is in close vicinity to residential areas. While the town’s inhabitants enjoy the benefits of its constant cargo flow in terms of both imported goods and the sheer volume of business that the site brings, the importance of noise reduction cannot be overstated.
Svein Olav Lunde, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the Port of Oslo, underlines the criticality of this consideration during the port’s partner selection process: “When we prepared our specification for new harbor cranes,” he says, “we put in place very hard criteria on noise. In fact, noise-related criteria were among the primary factors in our evaluation of bidders in the tender phase.” “We have been in the port for decades,” Lunde explains.
The EU recognizes noise as one of the region's most pressing environmental and health problems, with an impact second only to poor air quality. Here are some of the EU's key actions to control noise emissions.
- 1999 The World Health Organization (WHO) released EU Guidelines for Community Noise, which addressed sources of noise in communities and acknowledged the effects of noise as a serious health problem.
- 2002 The EU Directive on Environmental Noise required countries to map noise hotspots and reduce exposure and made periodic reporting obligatory for member states.
- 2004 July 18 – the date by which EU Member States were expected to have laws, regulations and administrative provisions in place in order to comply with the Directive.
- 2009 The WHO’s Night Noise Guidelines provided evidence and recommendations that European countries could easily use to introduce targeted limits for night noise.
- 2010 Through the Parma Declaration, the EU and the WHO committed to reducing children's exposure of to harmful noise in different settings, including noise from electronics, recreation and traffic.