Jan
15
2014

Should environmental health officers be working to reduce neighbour noise?

Gareth Hooper, EHO and vice chair of the EPUK noise committee considers options for reducing neighbour noise problems.

Noise nuisance continues to blight peoples’ lives, with statistics from the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (CIEH) revealing the significant majority of complaints to local authorities are about residential noise. A MORI report commissioned by Defra suggests 63% of people hear noise from their neighbours. There is a range of noises and a range of responses – depending on the type of noise, time it occurs and where it occurs.

It becomes an issue when noise causes a significant reduction in quality of life. However, William H. Stewart, former US Surgeon General, stated: “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience. Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.” Studies have correlated noise with physiological changes in sleep, blood pressure and digestion. Studies have also linked noise with a negative impact on the developing fetus. So are we being flippant is seeing noise only as a nuisance?

The role of the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) is to resolve noise complaints where the complainant is subjected to unreasonable levels of noise and where they cannot resolve the problems themselves. The EHO will make a judgment – and where the noise can be deemed reasonable or the complainant is unreasonable in their expectation, will explain why action will not be taken.

The EHO is duty bound to take formal action if the noise is deemed a statutory nuisance. Formal action is important to end any situation causing unlawful detriment to someone, however, the actions of the EHO are not likely to improve future relations between neighbours! So is there a more constructive and positive way of dealing with noise?

The MORI report suggests that cohesive communities are likely to be more able to resolve noise issues themselves, and that encouraging better relations between neighbours is a possible route to longer term reduction of noise nuisance incidents. Movements like Asset Based Community Development(ABCD) and similar community strength based approaches seek to pull communities together. Could environmental health work more with these initiatives to heal social rifts and help people resolve issues themselves? Should the role of the EHO now be looking at strategies to reduce noise nuisances as well as deal with existing cases?

One obvious strategy is to improve sound insulation between buildings. Media devices are common in homes, and their ability to produce high quality sound at higher volumes is greater. Maybe sound insulation should move with the times and improve? Quiet Mark, the not-for-profit trading arm of the Noise Abatement Society and has launched a Quiet Homes campaign for 2014, seeking a standard for the aural properties of dwellings. It would greatly help the EHO and the 63% of people who hear their neighbours if sound insulation was improved.

EHOs will remain at the centre of dealing with noise complaints, but has the time come when the EHO also needs to look at creative noise prevention strategies?

Note from the campaigns office: Noise Action Week offers EHOs and others the opportunity to shout out about creative new approaches to preventing unhealthy noise impacts.

2 Comments + Add Comment

  • Whilst this article is quite right in encouraging EHOs to be proactive and for better standards in housing, it fails to address the major issue of non-domestic noise pollution. If a business or railway produces noise that is higher than levels known to be prejudicial to health, then an abatement order must be served, EPA1990sec79.

    We already have a paltry percentage of noise complaints leading to action according to DEFRA and many local authorities flatly refuse to tackle rail operators despite a legal obligation to do so. Much of the most persistant and health damaging noise pollution is not domestic but roads, airports, rail, industry. An article about the role of EHOs that fails to mention these and suggests the solution is neighbourhood based, is doing what many EHOs do, tackle the little guys, let big corporations pollute unchallenged.

  • Excellent message. The foundational importance of social cohesion is at the heart of managing – even eradicating, where people are willing – noise pollution. Fully support the blogger’s posit “Could environmental health work more with these initiatives to heal social rifts and help people resolve issues themselves? Should the role of the EHO now be looking at strategies to reduce noise nuisances as well as deal with existing cases?”. Absolutely. EHOs are ideally suited to understanding the needs and interdependencies amongst diverse community stakeholders and thereby leading holistic programmes to encourage greater community understanding, awareness and cooperation; they should be fully supported to do so wherever they are not.

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