Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Application notes - NSW industrial noise policy

These application notes are provided to assist industry and acoustical consultants develop noise impact assessments and apply the provisions of the NSW Industrial Noise Policy (INP), with the aim of reducing processing time.

The application notes, noise impact assessment for the modification of existing industrial premises, and determining what weather conditions should be used when predicting noise were approved in December 2010.

The EPA requires noise impact assessments to apply the provisions of the INP; alternative approaches are not acceptable. The process for identifying project-specific noise levels in Section 2 of the INP must be followed.

The level of mitigation that can be applied to a project is based on what is feasible and reasonable within the circumstances of that project. Valid factors include costs, aesthetics, community preferences, noise reduction achieved, etc.

Noise level requirements in a licence are based on what the project can achieve using feasible and reasonable mitigation.

For more information on feasible and reasonable levels of mitigation see:

Identifying the existing level of noise from industry

(see INP Section 2.2 and 3.2)
Table 2.1 Amenity Criteria (INP p. 16) sets out recommended cumulative noise levels for industry. In assessing the amenity effects of noise from a new development, it is essential to determine the level of noise already present.

Where the ambient noise levels are below the Acceptable Noise Level (ANL), then ideally the measurement of the existing level of noise should include only noise from industrial sources. In these situations, however, it may be acceptable to include noise from other sources (for example, roads, neighbourhoods). The reasons for this are that:

  • including noise from other sources typically results in assessing the worst case for impacts on amenity
  • strictly excluding noise from sources other than industry can be difficult and costly and may not be necessary if the development meets the criteria.

However, where ambient noise levels are above the ANL then noise from other sources should be excluded in establishing existing levels of industrial noise. Where the level of road traffic noise is high enough to make noise from an industrial source inaudible for the majority of the time or difficult to measure directly, it may be necessary to consider applying the assessment for areas of high traffic noise. (Application Note Amenity criteria in high traffic noise areas provides further guidance on this.)

Assessing noise at industrial/commercial receivers

(see INP Section 2.2)
The INP does not require that intrusive noise be assessed at industrial or commercial premises. For industrial/commercial receivers, only the amenity criteria apply. Amenity noise levels should be assessed at the most affected point on or within the property boundary. This approach also applies to other non-residential receivers, such as educational facilities, hospitals and places of worship.

When to apply the urban/industrial interface amenity category

(see INP Section 2.2.1)
The urban/industrial interface category in the INP recognises that the availability of noise mitigation measures might be limited for existing premises where residences are close to existing industries.

The urban/industrial interface amenity category applies only for existing situations (that is, an existing receiver near an existing industry) and only for those receivers in the immediate area surrounding the existing industry, that is, the region that extends from the boundary of the existing industry to the point where the noise level of the existing industry (measured at its boundary) has fallen by 5 decibels.

Beyond the interface region (that is, beyond the point where noise has fallen by 5 decibels) the receiver category that most describes the area (rural, suburban or urban) would apply. (Note: the wording on pages 18 and 67 of the INP does not fully clarify this and the word 'urban' should be deleted and replaced with the word 'applicable' on page 18 at line 6 of the 'Urban/industrial interface' category and on page 67 at line 9 of the first paragraph.)

For new developments of a limited nature (such as an extension to existing process or plant or when replacing part of an existing process or plant with new technology) on existing sites (where the urban/industrial amenity category applies) then the urban/industrial amenity category is the appropriate amenity category for the new development. However, where a new development on an existing site is of a substantial nature (such as demolition of the existing plant and replacement with current technology or different type of plant) and where replacement of the existing plant has a realistic potential to significantly reduce receiver noise levels through using feasible and reasonable noise mitigation (ie: where the existing plant is the dominant or a significant contributor to receiver noise levels) then the applicable noise criteria for the new development is the appropriate (rural, suburban or urban) amenity criteria for the location.

In most cases the situation will be apparent but in some cases careful judgement will be required to determine whether the new development is of sufficient magnitude to effectively replace the existing plant. In situations where no clear conclusion on the magnitude of change created by the new development is possible then the urban/industrial amenity category should apply.

Identifying the appropriate receiver amenity category

(see INP Section 2.2.2)
Amenity criteria in Table 2.1 of the INP vary depending on the type of receiver. INP Section 2.2.2 provides guidance on identifying the appropriate receiver type. Where there is doubt or debate over which receiver category is appropriate, the proponent needs to seek the views of the relevant land use manager (for example, Council or Department of Planning and Infrastructure). Once the land use manager has identified the land use (eg: zone, allowable density of development and land use patterns), the appropriate amenity criteria can be assigned.

Amenity criteria in high traffic noise areas

(see INP Section 2.2.3)
In areas where traffic flow is continuous and noise from industrial sources is inaudible or difficult to measure due to a high level of road traffic noise, and where the LAeq, (period), traffic noise level is more than 10 dB above the ANL presented in Table 2.1, the ANL is replaced by LAeq, (period), traffic minus 10 dB. This becomes the new ANL for the receiver area.

Once the new ANL is determined, the project-specific amenity criterion can be determined by following the modification process given in Table 2.2.

Example. An industrial development is proposed adjacent to several existing industrial facilities. The measured ambient night-time LAeq noise level is 60 dB(A) at a receiver potentially affected by noise from the proposed industrial development. The residential receiving area of the assessment location has been identified as 'urban'. A nearby road dominates the night-time acoustic environment at the receiver and there are no other environmental or extraneous local noise sources. In these circumstances, the measured ambient LAeq noise level of 60 dB(A) can be taken to represent the LAeq, (period), traffic. The night-time noise contribution from existing industry is estimated to be 46 dB(A). What is the project-specific amenity (night-time) noise criterion for the proposed industrial development?

Solution. The LAeq, (period), traffic minus 10 dB is greater than the night time ANL of 45 dB(A) as determined from Table 2.1 for urban areas not significantly affected by traffic noise. Therefore, the approach described in Section 2.2.3 of the INP can be applied and the new ANL becomes LAeq, (period), traffic minus 10 dB. As the LAeq, (period), traffic is 60 dB(A), then the new ANL becomes 50 dB(A). This is the amenity noise criterion for the total industry LAeq noise in the area. The project-specific amenity (night-time) noise criterion for the proposed industrial development is then determined by comparing the existing industry LAeq of 46 dB(A) to the new ANL of 50 dB(A) with respect to the modification process given in Table 2.2. This gives the project-specific amenity (night-time) noise criterion of 48 dB(A), that is, new ANL minus 2 dB(A).

Dealing with cumulative noise from multiple developments

(see INP Section 2.2.4)
The intrusive and amenity criteria outlined in Section 2 of the INP were established primarily to deal with individual development applications for industrial sites in the vicinity of existing sensitive receivers with stable background noise levels. In Section 2.2.4 the INP recognises that for multiple developments, such as a new industrial area, a strategic approach can be implemented to ensure the amenity objectives are not compromised and an equitable share of the remaining available allocation of amenity-related noise for each industrial development is achieved.

Identifying which of the amenity or intrusive criteria apply

(see INP Section 2.4)
The INP notes that the Project-Specific Noise Levels (PSNL) are the more stringent of either the amenity or intrusive criteria. This is not necessarily just a matter of comparing the magnitude of the amenity criteria to the intrusive criteria because different time periods apply (intrusive criteria uses 15 minutes while the amenity criteria are over the day, evening or night period).

For example, where the same number applies to both the amenity and intrusive criteria, the intrusive criteria would typically be more stringent because it is determined over a much shorter period.

Where the predicted amenity noise level is lower than the intrusive level for the proposed development, the proponent needs to ensure that both levels will be satisfied. In this situation, noise limits specified in the licence conditions will include both the intrusive and amenity noise levels predicted to be achieved by the proposal to ensure that the community is protected from intrusive noise impacts at all times.

Assessing background noise levels

(see INP Section 3.1)
To determine the Rating Background Level (RBL) and existing industry-contributed LAeq, the measurement of ambient noise levels should be undertaken in the absence of noise from the development under consideration.

When the RBL for evening or night is higher than the RBL for daytime

(see INP Section 3.1)
The results of long term unattended background noise monitoring can sometimes determine that the calculated Rating Background Level (RBL) for the evening or night period is higher than the RBL for the daytime period. These situations can often arise due to increased noise from, for example, insects or frogs during the evening and night in the warmer months or due to temperature inversion conditions during winter. The objective of carrying out long-term background noise monitoring at a location is to determine existing background noise levels that are indicative of the entire year.

In determining project-specific noise levels from the RBLs, the community's expectations also need to be considered. The community generally expects greater control of noise during the more sensitive evening and night-time periods than the less sensitive daytime period. Therefore, in determining project-specific noise levels for a particular development, it is generally recommended that the intrusive noise level for evening be set at no greater than the intrusive noise level for daytime. The intrusive noise level for night-time should be no greater than the intrusive noise level for day or evening. Alternative approaches to these recommendations may be adopted if appropriately justified.

Maximum noise levels during shoulder periods

(see INP Section 3.3)
Noise levels in limit conditions for sleep disturbance would typically be set as a maximum noise level. The approach noted in the INP for developing intrusive criteria for the shoulder period is not appropriate for determining maximum noise levels for the shoulder period. That is, assigning a background noise level based on averaging daytime and night-time RBLs may be appropriate for determining intrusive criteria but it is not appropriate for assigning maximum noise levels. The reason for this is that the day or night RBL is based around the 90th percentile of LA90s, which is quite different to an RBL based on an average. (Additionally, setting maximum noise levels for the shoulder period based on the lowest LA90 during the period is not practical as it can result in the maximum noise limit being set lower than the intrusive noise limit.)

In order to generate a statistically valid data set to derive the 90th percentile of LA90s for the shoulder period, a much larger sampling time (than the one week typically applied) would be required, with associated cost and practicality implications. Therefore, a statistical approach to calculating the RBL for shoulder periods is not required by the INP.

It is the intention of the INP that appropriate noise targets for the shoulder period be negotiated with the regulatory/consent authority on a case-by-case basis. The focus of the INP is on avoiding or minimising noise of a high level and/or with intrusive characteristics, during the shoulder period, through the use of best practice.

Options available to the proponent for managing maximum noise levels during the shoulder period are to:

  • avoid noise events during the shoulder period (or at least during the first half and then to meet RBL(shoulder period) +15 dB(A) during the second half of the shoulder period)
  • collect sufficient data to calculate a statistically robust 90th percentile-based RBL for the shoulder period and use this to determine RBL+15 dB(A) as the maximum noise level limit
  • conduct a detailed analysis of the number and noise level of noise events, and the exceedence of the background noise level, then, present a case comparing the results of the analysis and the research results contained in the NSW Road Noise Policy.

Tonality - sliding scale test

(see INP Section 4.2)
The sliding scale test for tonality outlined in Section 4 of the INP uses a linear (z-weighted) spectrum (that is, no frequency weighting on each of the octave or third octave bands).

Duration correction

(see INP Section 4.2)
Section 4 of the INP provides guidance on the use of modifying factors to account for certain characteristics of a noise source. The duration factors in Table 4.2 are intended to increase the criterion that is acceptable, whereas the modifying factor corrections in Table 4.1 are intended to increase the measured or predicted level.

Determining what weather conditions should be used when predicting noise

Background

(see INP Section 5)
The INP intends that the noise levels used in assessing noise impacts at the consent stage include the effects of any weather conditions that are a feature of the area when the development operates. This means that the effects of weather conditions such as temperature inversions and wind on the noise level experienced at sensitive receivers should be adequately assessed at the consent stage.

Wind can enhance noise propagation compared with calm conditions (where there is no wind). When a wind blows, friction causes the air to move more slowly close to the ground than at higher altitudes. This phenomenon of wind speed increasing with height is termed 'wind shear'. The increase in noise occurs because sound waves from the source are bent through this 'wind shear' back towards the ground.

Unlike temperature inversions, wind can enhance propagation during any time of the day, evening or night. Wind does not increase noise in all directions and can also reduce noise. For example, wind blowing from the south to the north (termed a 'southerly' wind) increases noise to the north of an industrial premise and also reduces noise to the south of that premise.

In some instances, where one or more significant weather conditions have been identified as part of a noise assessment, noise levels from the industrial premises under only these significant weather conditions have been assessed, but noise levels under calm conditions have not.

The INP describes in Section 5 when weather is 'significant' (i.e. it occurs more than 30% of the relevant time period) and how to apply this in the noise assessment. This approach may result in noise levels at some receivers being underestimated, as in the southerly prevailing wind scenario described above.

Recommended approach

This application note clarifies that in all cases at each receiver:

  1. noise levels from the premises under calm conditions as well as any significant weather conditions as defined in the INP should be predicted or measured
  2. the highest of the noise levels from Step 1 is to be used in the assessment for that receiver.

The intent of the INP is not to require that these conditions should be applied exclusively where the significant weather conditions act to reduce noise at a sensitive receiver.

For example, where a significant prevailing wind of speed less than three metres per second increases noise levels at a receiver to the north of a development (compared with those predicted under calm conditions), the noise levels predicted under that prevailing wind should be used at that receiver. For receiver(s) to the south of the same development, if the noise levels predicted under calm wind conditions are higher than those predicted under the significant prevailing wind, the noise levels predicted under calm wind conditions should be used at the southern receiver(s).

The EPA has previously accepted (and will accept) noise predictions based on modelling noise emissions using long term weather data, as it can present a higher level of analysis than that required under the INP.

How calm is defined

(see INP Section 5.1)
In the assessment of wind effects, the INP requires the assessment of wind speeds of up to 3 metres per second where these speeds are a feature of the area (they occur for 30 percent of the time or more) but does not specify the minimum wind speed that needs to be assessed. The calm condition is typically represented by wind speeds less than or equal to 0.5 metres per second as this is likely to be the lower limit of measurement.

Presenting predicted noise impacts

(see INP Section 6.3)
In carrying out noise impact predictions for a particular development, predicted noise levels for calm conditions as well as any significant adverse weather conditions should generally be provided. It is particularly useful to provide predicted noise impacts for calm weather conditions where predicted noise impacts under adverse weather conditions exceed the project-specific noise levels. This allows for a better understanding of potential noise impacts from the development.

Noise impact assessment for the modification of existing industrial premises

Background

(see INP Section 10)
Section 10 of the INP outlines the application of the policy to existing industrial premises.

As well as being used to assess noise emissions from new industrial premises, the INP is also applied to situations where existing industrial premises are modified, expanded or upgraded.

Where a modification is proposed, the noise level targets for the premises (termed Project Specific Noise Levels) are to be determined firstly excluding any noise from the subject premises. The noise from the existing premises is then assessed against these targets to determine if there is a need to consider noise mitigation for existing operations. The predicted noise level from the proposed modification is then assessed, both in isolation and in combination with noise from the existing premises.

The total noise emissions from the modified premises should ideally not exceed the Project Specific Noise Levels. If the existing premises cannot achieve these targets, the allowable noise emissions from the proposed modification will be set so that the modification does not significantly increase the existing noise emissions.

Recommended approach

This application note outlines these processes together with the degree of information required to support a proper assessment of modifications to an existing industrial premises.

A noise impact assessment for the modification of existing industrial premises should include, as a minimum:

  • existing noise criteria contained in consents, approvals or licences, that are applicable to the premises;
  • Project Specific Noise Levels (PSNLs) for the premises determined in accordance with the INP and relevant application notes (see, for example, Appendix A4 of the INP). Note: care should be taken to exclude noise from the existing premises when quantifying background and existing industrial noise levels (further guidance is in the INP in Section 11.1.2);
  • where application of the INP results in a PSNL more stringent than existing noise criteria, the PSNL should be adopted for noise assessment purposes. Note: the INP acknowledges that the PSNL is a goal sought to be achieved through the application of feasible and reasonable noise mitigation measures and is not necessarily applied as a statutory limit by default.
  • measured or predicted noise levels from the existing premises at noise sensitive receiver locations;
  • predicted noise contribution from the proposed modification, in isolation, at noise sensitive receiver locations; and
  • cumulative noise levels from the entire premises (i.e. combined level from existing and proposed modification) compared to the PSNL.

Where noise from the existing premises exceeds the PSNL

Where it can be determined that noise from the existing premises alone is currently exceeding the PSNL, a preliminary analysis of potential noise mitigation measures, and conceptual noise reductions, needs to be undertaken for the existing premises. Note: this does not mean that in all circumstances noise mitigation to existing premises will be required as part of a modification. Decisions of this nature will be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account various factors, for example, feasible and reasonable mitigation options, the absolute level of noise and existing measures of community impact, including complaints.

Once the conceptual mitigated level of noise performance of the existing premises (i.e. what can be achieved) has been determined, the contribution noise level goal for the modification can be determined. The noise level goal for the modification should be set at least 10dB below the PSNL, or where it has been determined that the existing premises cannot achieve the PSNL, it should be set at least 10dB below the conceptual mitigated noise performance of the existing premises.

This approach is designed to ensure that noise from the modification does not become the limiting factor in noise from the entire premises potentially meeting the PSNL.

Prosecution guidelines

(see INP Section 11.1)
EPA's approach to prosecuting offences is described in EPA prosecution guidelines 2012, particularly Sections 2.2.3 to 2.2.7 under 'Discretion' which states that 'not every breach of the criminal law is automatically prosecuted - the laying of charges is discretionary' and 'The EPA has a discretion as to how to proceed in relation to environmental breaches' and 'Each case will be assessed to determine whether prosecution is the appropriate strategic response'. Sections 2.2.8 under 'Factors to be considered' in the Guidelines describe factors that are considered when determining whether prosecution is required, such as 'whether the breach is a continuing or second offence', 'the availability and efficacy of any alternatives to prosecution' and 'the prevalence of the alleged offence and the need for deterrence, both specific and general'.

Using Appendix D

Appendix D of the INP provides a rough guide for predicting the increase in noise due to inversion effects. The data provided is based on simple calculations performed using the Environmental Noise Model (ENM), assuming flat ground and no barriers.

The use of this Appendix may underestimate the effects of temperature inversions where a barrier or intervening topography is present. For detailed noise impact assessments, a more thorough analysis of noise impacts under temperature inversions is expected. Where a noise model such as SoundPlan or ENM is used to determine noise impacts from a development under calm conditions or during wind conditions, the model should also be used to determine potential noise impacts under inversion conditions, rather than using Appendix D.

How to account for operations that only occur for part of the day, evening or night

If a plant operates throughout the day and evening but only part of the night, the assessment and applicable criteria are based on the period that the plant operates. For example, if the night operation occurs between 10pm and 3am the assessment of background noise and existing noise from industry would cover only those 5 hours and the applicable criteria would be derived from this period. The same applies for part operation during the day or evening.

The basic inputs needed to establish the amenity criteria are the existing industrial noise and the ANLs for different types of receivers. The amenity criterion is then obtained by a process that seeks to limit continuing increases in noise levels from industrial sources. The amenity criterion is equally applicable to a development that operates only for a portion of the relevant assessment period.

During the impact prediction phase, determining whether an industrial activity meets the amenity criteria entails assessing the noise level emissions from the activity over the period it takes place. Typically this would correspond to the times during which the industrial operation has approval to operate as specified in a licence or consent.

For example, where an industrial operation commences at 5am, the period during which to assess night-time amenity would be from 5am to 7am. A noise impact assessment should not include the period during which the industrial operation does not operate (the night-time hours of 10pm to 5am).

The basic premise of assessing noise over the period that an activity occurs has and continues to be the standard approach.

The existing industrial noise should be used in conjunction with the appropriate ANL to establish the amenity criteria applicable. The criteria are applicable to the hours the development operates.

If there were a disparity between the approved operating hours and the actual period over which industrial activities take place then the appropriate period to apply to assessing amenity would need to be assigned with the aim of assessing noise over the time in which industrial activities take place. In practice, it is expected that this is unlikely to be a significant issue as most industrial operations conduct industrial activities during their approved operating hours.

In situations where high levels of ambient noise occur the INP provides a mechanism to adjust the applicable noise criteria so as not to impose overly stringent criteria. For example, if an industry operates from 5am to 7am and the receiver premises experience high levels of existing traffic noise at this time, the ANL used to derive the amenity criteria can be adjusted on the basis of the high existing traffic noise. If the existing industrial noise is low, then the traffic-modified ANL becomes the amenity criterion.

Sleep disturbance

Peak noise level events, such as reversing beepers, noise from heavy items being dropped or other high noise level events, have the potential to cause sleep disturbance. The potential for high noise level events at night and effects on sleep should be addressed in noise assessments for both the construction and operational phases of a development. The INP does not specifically address sleep disturbance from high noise level events.

Research on sleep disturbance is reviewed in the NSW Road Noise Policy. This review concluded that the range of results is sufficiently diverse that it was not reasonable to issue new noise criteria for sleep disturbance.

From the research, the EPA recognised that the current sleep disturbance criterion of an LA1, (1 minute) not exceeding the LA90, (15 minute) by more than 15 dB(A) is not ideal. Nevertheless, as there is insufficient evidence to determine what should replace it, the EPA will continue to use it as a guide to identify the likelihood of sleep disturbance. This means that where the criterion is met, sleep disturbance is not likely, but where it is not met, a more detailed analysis is required.

The detailed analysis should cover the maximum noise level or LA1, (1 minute), that is, the extent to which the maximum noise level exceeds the background level and the number of times this happens during the night-time period. Some guidance on possible impact is contained in the review of research results in the NSW Road Noise Policy. Other factors that may be important in assessing the extent of impacts on sleep include:

  • how often high noise events will occur
  • time of day (normally between 10pm and 7am)
  • whether there are times of day when there is a clear change in the noise environment (such as during early morning shoulder periods).

The LA1, (1 minute) descriptor is meant to represent a maximum noise level measured under 'fast' time response. The EPA will accept analysis based on either LA1, (1 minute) or LA, (Max).

Addressing privately owned haul roads

Noise from privately owned haul roads is to be assessed as an industrial noise source according to the INP. The practice of treating access roads as part of the industrial premises with which they are associated is a long established part of noise management in NSW, which the INP has not changed. The basis for treating vehicles on private access roads as part of an industrial noise source lies in the relationship between the enterprise and the noise, and the community's response to noise from vehicles operating on private roads.

The character of the noise is different to general road traffic noise
Traffic on access roads is solely related to the operation of the site served by the access road and is usually composed almost entirely of heavy vehicles, producing noise of a different character to the typical public roadway where smaller vehicles typically predominate.

Factors that influence community response are different compared to public roads
The distribution of benefits from the operation of a private access road is typically perceived as different than from a public road. Affected members of the public have been reported as questioning the equity of truck noise degrading their amenity for the benefit of others.

The degree of control possible for traffic on a private access road is typically perceived as greater than for a public road. The result is a higher level of expectations that more can and should be done to reduce noise from the private road (than from a public one).

Determining noise limits for licence conditions

Where the proponent predicts that noise levels from the industrial development would be below the project-specific noise levels, then the noise limits specified in the licence/consent conditions should reflect the noise levels that the proponent states would be achieved (that is, the predicted noise levels, however a minimum intrusive criterion of 35 dB(A) still applies). This is for a number of reasons:

  • to ensure that the best-management practices and best available technology described in the noise impact assessment report are actually adopted by the proponent
  • to ensure that the level of achievable performance presented by the proponent to the public, though public documentation such as Environmental Impact Statements, is achieved
  • to optimise the opportunity for further industrial development in the area without an unacceptable degradation of the acoustic amenity of the area
  • to fulfil a general aim of the environmental assessment process to minimise environmental impacts.

It should be noted that noise limits would apply to the contributed noise levels from only the premises or site of concern. In setting noise limits, judgement needs to be made as to whether the predicted noise levels warrant noise limits on the licence/consent. Where the predicted noise levels from the premises of concern are well below the project-specific noise levels, there may be no need for noise limit conditions.

Any tolerances to the predicted noise levels should be addressed in the proponent's assessment of impacts so that the predicted noise levels can be applied in conditions.

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Page last updated: 12 June 2013