Understanding Noise Laws in the UK and other EU Regions
Excessive noise can disrupt our lives, affecting our physical and mental health in the process. However, with our world becoming increasingly urbanised and populations growing, noise pollution is seemingly an unavoidable part of daily life. This is where noise laws come into play.
Noise pollution and its health impact
On top of the obvious physical impact of prolonged exposure to high levels of noise, such as hearing damage and tinnitus, noise pollution can also impact the mental health of those exposed to it. Disruptions to sleep, and chronic stress from continuous exposure to outside noise can aggravate anxiety disorders and lead to cognitive impairment and even cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.
Noise regulations in the UK
To protect public health in the UK, the government has implemented multiple pieces of legislation which give local authorities the power to take action against noise pollution.
The Noise Act, 1996
Primarily geared towards noise in residential areas, The Noise Act 1996 includes provisions for dealing with noise complaints and potential penalties for those causing excessive noise. Specific decibel levels aren’t clearly defined, but the rules allow local authorities to act when an obvious nuisance is being caused.
Environmental Protection Act, 1990
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 is similar to the Noise Act 1996 but there are noise level limits defined, albeit varying depending on the local authority and type of area e.g., a rural village or bustling city centre. This piece of legislation gives local authorities the ability to give noise abatement notices which specify limits on noise and outline measures that should be taken to reduce it.
Control of Pollution Act, 1974
The Control of Pollution Act, 1974, regulates construction noise amongst many other things. This act limits construction noise to approximately 55-65 dBs in residential areas during daytime hours (7am-7pm), however this can vary by location.
Noise Regulations in the EU
Regions across the EU understand the impact of noise pollution and as such, have written noise pollution regulations into their laws. Looking at The Netherlands, Germany, and France we can see various similarities and differences in points of view and policies – with some much more stringent than others.
In the Netherlands, The Noise Pollution Act was implemented to lay out acceptable noise levels for businesses in industrial areas, whilst The Environmental Management Decree covers noise pollution caused by businesses in other areas such as rural towns. However, when it comes to noise caused by neighbours such as by parties or noisy children, there are no statutory limits and people are advised to discuss the problem with the neighbour, a mediator, or the police.
Germany is much more stringent than others in terms of noise pollution, with leaf blowers being banned and the entire country adhering to the concept of Ruhezeit (quiet time). The Ruhezeit period is from 10pm-7am on weekdays and the entire day on Sundays and public holidays, however, this does vary in different locations. A general rule of thumb is that you can make noise up to 50 decibels (general room volume), but anything above is forbidden. This means that all gardening with loud tools is strictly forbidden during Ruhezeit.
Whilst this may seem strict and imposing to some, others will find Ruhezeit a nice reprieve from daily life’s loud hustle and bustle, especially those living in urban and built-up areas.
Since 2007, laws in France around noise pollution from professional entities like businesses have been tightened, however, there is little that can legally be done about domestic noise complaints against noisy neighbours. Noise from a building site is also considered to be a normal activity and therefore, any complaints will likely have no legal redress.
Noise nuisance from musical venues, however, do have specific decibel levels which they may not exceed. A basic rule is that the normal level of output inside the establishment cannot exceed 105dB(A) with an occasional maximum of 120 db. These rules are enforced by the venue owners because they are required to undertake monitoring of noise levels and sometimes present their results to the mayor.
The Environmental Noise Directive
The Environmental Noise Directive is the main, overarching policy across the EU that identifies noise pollution levels and combats them. The END focuses on four main areas:
- Determining the level of exposure to environmental noise and it’s health effects on the individual
- Preventing and reducing environmental noise
- Ensuring easy access to information about environmental noise pollution for the public
- Preserving good quality levels of environmental noise
The END requires countries within the EU to create noise management plans every 5 years, including noise maps and specific plans of action. The noise management plans must be applied to the following areas:
- Major roads (3 million+ vehicles per annum)
- Major railways (30,000+ trains per annum)
- Major airports (50,000+ take-offs and landings per annum)
- Areas with more than 100,000 inhabitants
The directive itself doesn’t outline specific decibel limits or targets, as these can vary massively from area to area. It’s left up to local authorities to determine their own limits and targets after a mandatory consultation with the public.
Across the UK and the EU, there are numerous policies which allow local authorities to act against defined and non-defined levels of noise pollution. Whether it’s laying out clear decibel levels, or relying on individual common sense, defining, and combating “unacceptable” levels of noise is nuanced and tricky, but with concepts such as Ruhezeit taking hold in Germany it’s clearly possible for everyone to work together for a quieter, and safer future.
As part of our Challenge 2025 initiative, we’ve launched our ‘Noisy Neighbours’ campaign which highlights testing commissioned with leading noise and vibration testing company, Earlsmere as well as calling for greater consideration about noise produced by outdoor power equipment. The testing found that noise pollution generated by petrol-powered outdoor power tools – notably those used in gardens – heavily exceeds the HSE’s daily exposure limit of 87dB (A).
With the negative health implications of prolonged exposure to noise and vibration, our goal is to help home users of petrol-powered tools to understand their effects and make the switch to battery power – for the benefit of both themselves but also their neighbours. For information on how noise and vibration affects the usage of garden tools, read about our today.
Are you interested in information about reducing noise pollution and improving public health? Download The Report below and keep an eye on our for updates on how we’re helping create a future that’s cleaner, quieter, and safer.