Make construction sites silent: electrification as part of the solution

Publish date: October 6, 2021

15 million workers in Europe are exposed to high levels of noise daily on construction sites. These result both in hearing loss and a high risk of accidents. Electric machinery can drastically reduce noise on construction sites by eliminating noise from internal combustion engines and generators. This allows for better comfort of workers, reduced health risks and the possibility to work longer hours for companies. 

The construction sector represents 7.5% of total European jobs, with approximately 15 million workers directly employed in the European construction sector1. 

These workers are exposed daily to loud sounds from the impact between machinery and materials and prolonged noises from the machinery’s engines and generators. Noises on construction sites can be summarised in four categories: 

  • Impact noise 
  • Noise from pneumatically powered equipment 
  • Noise from internal combustion engines 
  • Background noise from other activities and equipment not directly related to one’s work 

Noise represents a high-risk factor for workers both directly and indirectly. Direct exposure to noise increases the risk of hearing losses. Individual loud noises (high decibels) are dangerous for human earing, but the risk increases further with exposure. Impact noise is unfortunately unavoidable in the context of construction but is usually controlled and in short bursts. However, noise coming from internal combustion engines is relatively constant. Between 14 and 17% of construction workers report hearing losses2. Moreover, it has been shown that 89% of operating engineers who had worked in the construction industry for more than 30 years had a hearing loss3. 

Indirectly, noise exposes workers to hazard because of the communication challenges it creates. A high level of noise and hearing protection drastically decreases the ability to communicate with fellow workers, resulting in fatal accidents. This is often reported, together with the discomfort of wearing such protections, as the reason for over 30% of the workers choosing not to wear these devices4. Nevertheless, failure to wear appropriate hearing protection further increases the risks of hearing losses. 

Noise on construction sites differs essentially from noise in the industrial context. Inside industries, noise is more regular, predictable and private. Meanwhile, construction sites, noise tends to be less manageable and public. Moreover, workers performing quiet tasks are equally exposed to noise-related issues since noisy activities cannot be isolated from silent ones. 

One of the key recommendations of the European Agency for Safety and Health at work to reduce noise exposure in construction sites is to adopt a low-noise procurement policy for machinery and work equipment. Although it’s hardly impossible to eliminate impact noises, constant noises in the construction sites can be drastically reduced by substituting internal combustion engines with electric ones. Similarly, diesel generators can be substituted with batteries. 

Running an electric-only construction site drastically reduces noise, providing workers with higher comfort standards, lower risks of hearing losses, and reduced chances of accidents.  

Moreover, reduced noise increases the benefits for the companies running the construction sites as well. Today, regulations exist to limit the noise pollution coming from construction sites to certain hours. In France, for instance, construction noise is authorized only between 8 AM and 7 PM. Therefore, using electric equipment would allow for longer running hours, especially for those activities with little or no impact noise. 

All this is without mentioning the benefits to the people living and working in the vicinity of a construction site. Construction activities can decrease the life quality of entire neighbourhoods for a prolonged time. Switching to electric machinery can drastically decrease the noise coming from such activity and thus help to reduce their impact on the community and increase their overall acceptability.  


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