Portland Demolition Tip: Controlling Noise on a Job Site

Noise WarningConstruction job sites are loud. Industrial demolition contractors may create ear-splitting noise when tearing down buildings. To create a pleasant urban experience, most cities (including Portland) limit noise levels with ordinances. OSHA also sets standards that employers must follow to protect employees’ hearing. In this post we take a close look at Portland’s rules and regulations for noise. We also discuss how contractors can prevent hearing damage while on the job.

City of Portland Construction Noise Regulations. Portland has several regulations to be aware of regarding permissible hours and noise levels. The city permits a “liberal” standard of noise (85 dBA at a 50-foot distance) Monday through Saturday from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. The city’s fact sheet states that properly maintained, and muffled (when possible) equipment is typically compliant for this daytime regulation. Exceptions are made for certain kinds of equipment (jackhammers, concrete saws, and pile drivers) that are not capable of meeting this standard.

Off-Hours. Outside these permissible hours restrictions are more stringent. Most importantly, the ordinance exception to jackhammers and other deafening equipment does not extend to these off hours. Also, contractors must consider location. Industrial sites are not as likely to be in violation of noise code as residential sites. The city states that when complaints are made, it is usually because of the time of day (e.g., before 7:00am), rather than the amount of noise created.

Citations and Variances. When the city of Portland receives a complaint about a noise violation, a warning is issued and the contractor is requested to take care of the problem. Most complaints end here, but for problems that are not resolved, the city may issue a fine of up to $5000 per violation. A court-issued stop work order may also be doled out in severe cases. The city also recognized that there are times that contractors may need to work outside the normal Monday-to-Saturday hours. Variances may be provided to clean up natural disasters, for instance. For other special circumstances, contractors may apply for noise variances. For these permits, a minimum of 10 days is required for approval. If the Noise Review Board is hearing a case, at least 45 days will be needed. Portland demolition workers should be aware that there are fees associated with these processes—Variances cost $360, plus $120 per week; Noise Review Board variances begin at $1843.

Controlling Noise. Certain noises can be controlled, but others are part of the demolition process and cannot be avoided. OSHA has standards for the duration and level of noise which employees may be exposed to. This level is set at 85 Db over an 8-hour period, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Employers are responsible for monitoring employees who are exposed to more than 8 hour TWAs at 85 Db per day.

Guidelines are also issued for the monitoring equipment used to detect sound level exposure. The exposure monitoring equipment must include accurate information on all types of noise (continuous, intermittent, and impulsive) within the 80 to 130 dB range typically found during a normal workday. Monitoring must be repeated when workplace conditions change. However, employers are entitled to monitor the process and to decide for themselves how to notify employees. In addition, employers must also be responsible for calibration of monitoring equipment.

Preventing Hearing Damage. Hearing protection is the first line of defense against hearing damage, and employers are required to issue these to all workers exposed to 8-hour TWA noise levels of 85 dB and higher. Hearing protection is available in both plug and earmuff form, and employers must provide workers with at least one variety of each. The protection must be comfortable, and it must offer sufficient protection against hearing loss. The employer must evaluate the suitability (the NRR rating) of the hearing protection for the workplace noise levels and make adjustments as needed.

Audiograms and Audiometric testing. Audiometric testing is used to monitor for hearing loss over time. Employers are required to offer audiometric testing at no cost to workers who are exposed to 85 dB for more than 8 hours TWA. Audiograms and audiometric testing is also used to monitor for excessive exposure to loud noise, and for potential hearing loss. The employer must establish programs for audiometric testing that will use baseline audiograms, annual audiograms; as well as training and other follow-up methods.

As you can see, Portland demolition firms must follow multiple rules regarding noise levels and hearing protection. Doing so not only helps contractors avoid fines—it also creates a more livable community while protecting workers from hearing loss.

[photo by: Andy Wright on Flickr via CC License]

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