Industrial processes imply the generation of loud noise. Steel production, moreover, goes on around the clock. Substantial economic resources are invested in noise-reducing measures but, in practice, it is not possible to take away all noise from these operations. To internalise all noise-generating operations, and to install facilities to minimise the noise, poses major technical and economic problems. For example, far-reaching energy-intensive cooling of the premises would be required for the work environment to be tolerable for the employees and for the technical equipment to function.
The focus of the companies’ efforts should instead be on the minimisation of especially disturbing noise. This is most often caused by incidents arising from faulty equipment or handling errors. Examples are screeching industrial fans or faulty handling procedures during the loading of scrap metals. Such noise problems the steel companies strive to deal with through e.g. systematic maintenance, targeted training and direct feedback of the noise level during scrap loading.
Noise levels for indoor environments are a work environment issue and such questions are handled by the Steel Industry Work Environment Group, within the Swedish Association of Industrial Employers (Industriarbetsgivarna).
Read more about the Steel Industry Work Environment Group (industriarbetsgivarna.se)
Companies are subject to operating conditions in their permits that regulate the noise levels that may be accepted around the plants. The conditions are imposed in connection with the individual authorising procedures (permit applications) and are adjusted to what is technically and economically feasible.
The steel companies today must satisfy conditions that are set as target values in terms of equivalent sound levels (averaged over a period of time) for day and night operations, together with possible maximum levels for momentary noise emissions. Frequently, it is the target values set for the night hours that serve to limit operations.
The Swedish Environment Protection Agency has issued guidelines concerning industrial noise emissions which were updated in 2015. This guidance is intended as a support – and starting point – for the further assessment of the conditions set for noise emissions. The target values indicated in the guidelines relate to extremely low noise levels; in many cases these are hard to achieve, especially in those cases where housing and other buildings lie very close to the plant. Several of the companies within the steel industry consequently have less rigorous target values in their permit conditions which are more reasonable in relation to their operations. Where standards are set for noise levels in everyday life in the community e.g. road traffic, there is only one target value for road traffic of 55 dBA equivalent sound level.
- There is a need for consensus on how noise shall be treated for society as a whole.
- It is unreasonable that industry is subject to special treatment in relation to the rest of the community where noise is concerned.
- Equivalent sound level is not a good measure of noise disturbance. The focus for work on noise reduction should rather be on especially disturbing noise.
- Noise conditions imposed on industry should instead be indicated as target values that are not directly subject to penalties; bearing in mind the difficulties in measuring and the temporary character of the disturbances.