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Environment

Trucks at quarry site
Why are noise and vibration issues important to councillors?

Although loud or persistent noise, that is audible beyond the site boundary, is unlikely to ever be so severe that it causes physical damage to an individual, it can seriously affect people in noise-sensitive locations. Vibration can also have similar nuisance impacts and, rarely, cause structural damage to nearby buildings. Consequently, noise and vibration issues are stringently regulated and the operator must be in compliance with a number of key regulations and constraints. The regulation of quarry noise is the responsibility of Council Environmental Health Departments and therefore is usually enforced through the setting of planning conditions. Local guidance may also be in force that further reduces allowable noise and vibration to levels appropriate to the local context.

What are noise and vibration?
     
Noise is an inevitable consequence of the working of aggregates. The exposure of the aggregate by mechanical stripping of soil and rock, extraction by digging or blasting, transportation of materials around the site and processing are all likely sources of noise. The operator must normally take steps to minimise noise at source or screen surrounding areas to prevent impacts outside the site boundary.
 
The simplest definition of noise is 'unwanted sound' (Goodquarry.com, 2005). A certain level of noise is an inevitable side effect of aggregates production. The exposure of the aggregates by mechanical stripping of soil and rock, extraction by digging or blasting, loading of the aggregate onto trucks or conveyors, and processing, all generate noise. Most of these activities take place in the open, increasing the potential for noise to be heard beyond the site boundaries.

The most significant source of vibration is blasting with explosives, as ground vibration from other sources (such as mobile plant and heavy fixed equipment) is generally not felt outside the site (Walker, 2004).

Blasting prior to excavation is rarely needed at sand and gravel or clay operations but is common at hard rock quarries, where it is used to reduce the rock mass to fragments that can be easily excavated using standard machinery. During blasting, energy is ‘lost' in the form of noise and ground vibration. In general, the level of vibration increases with the amount of explosive used, and decreases with the distance between the blast and receptor. Noise can seriously affect people in noise sensitive locations and interfere with their ability to relax, sleep, or communicate, causing stress and annoyance, with consequences for psychological wellbeing.

  Blasting may also give rise to ‘air overpressure' – airborne pressure waves – that can have similar effects to ground vibration (Maslen, 2004).

Why are noise and vibration significant?
     
Noise can seriously affect people in noise sensitive locations and interfere with their ability to relax, sleep, or communicate, causing stress and annoyance.
 
Assuming that noise levels around the site meet the health and safety standards laid out in the Noise at Work Regulations 1989, noise is only significant if it impacts those outside the site boundary. As noted previously, loud or persistent noise that is audible beyond the site boundary is unlikely to ever be so severe that it causes physical damage to the individual, but it can seriously affect people in noise sensitive locations and interfere with their ability to relax, sleep, or communicate, causing stress and annoyance, with consequences for psychological wellbeing.

Man being woken very early in the morning by quarry noise, and clearly having an effect on his psychological well being

Noise levels may vary during the life of the aggregate site. Noise related to stripping, digging and loading often peaks in the early stages of an operation and then decreases as the workings become deeper and surrounding areas are screened from the noise sources by the workings already undertaken.

In the same way that people are affected by noise, they can be affected by vibration, which can disturb sleep, work or leisure activities. In addition, severe or persistent vibration can cause both cosmetic and structural damage to property and services. Even if vibration is well below the level likely to cause damage, it can still give rise to significant complaints from local residents and other sensitive locations.
     
Noise and vibration sensitive locations include residential dwellings, gardens, places of worship, educational establishments, hospitals or similar institutions, and livestock farms. In addition to human impacts, noise and vibration may also disturb wildlife. This may be particularly important for endangered or rare species during the mating and nesting season.
 
Many of these potential impacts can be prevented or mitigated by the implementation of good practice. The acceptability of impacts that remain after good practice measures have been put in place should be considered in the context of the economic and other benefits that accrue from aggregates production.
 
 
 
Aerial view of quarry site annotated to show major sources of noise and vibration

Aerial photo of 'typical' quarry site annotated with major sources of noise and vibration. (Click to enlarge).

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