Review of the NSW Noise Control Regulation: Questions and answers

The Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2008 addresses common noisy activities that occur in residential situations. It limits the time of day that noisy equipment such as lawn mowers, stereos and leaf blowers can be heard in neighbouring residences. It also has provisions regarding motor vehicles (including noise limits and excessive noise from use of vehicles) and addresses noise from use of marine vessels. The Regulation is enforced by a number of agencies including councils, NSW Police, the Environment Protection Authority and Roads and Maritime Service (RMS).

The Subordinate Legislation Act 1989 requires that Regulations are reviewed to ensure they continue to be relevant and they can be improved where necessary. The review process must assess the economic and social impacts of the Regulations and alternative options through a Regulatory Impact Statement, which must be publicly consulted on before the new Regulation is made. The Regulatory Impact Statement must provide justification for a proposed Regulation by showing that it provides the greatest net benefit or least cost to the community compared with its alternatives.

The EPA is considering the feedback on the draft proposed POEO (Noise Control) Regulation 2017 which is intended to replace the 2008 Regulation, and the Regulatory Impact Statement that provides justification for the proposed Regulation.

1. What are the proposed key changes to the Noise Control Regulation?

The changes aim to improve clarity and enforceability and bring the Regulation in line with best practice and other regulatory settings. The key changes include:

Motor vehicles

  • Amending the definition of temporary noise reduction devices to exclude devices that are riveted in place. This clarifies the expectation that only permanent purpose-built noise reduction devices are appropriate.
  • Updating and amending the definition of emergency vehicles so that it reflects changes to Commonwealth department names.
  • Removing the offences regarding the retail sale of motor vehicle horns exceeding the prescribed requirements. Compliance at retail sale is impractical because of changing purchasing practices (articles able to be ordered over the internet) and self-installation by owners. Sufficient protection will be retained by applying the more practically enforceable provision that regulates the use of motor vehicle horns and provides protection from inappropriate use of motor vehicle horns and noise nuisances.
  • Amending the clauses that make it an offence to sell, use, modify or repair a motor vehicle that has temporary noise reduction packing so that only packing that was legitimately fitted by the vehicle’s manufacturer or is an equivalent replacement for any such packing fitted by the vehicle manufacturer is allowed. This aligns with how temporary noise reduction devices are practically dealt with in these clauses, clarifies the intent of the provision and aligns with the Australian Design Rules.
  • Amending the clauses that relate to driving, using, modifying or repairing motor vehicles that exceed prescribed levels to exclude heavy vehicles from the offences under these clauses. The Heavy Vehicle (Vehicle Standards) National Regulation (NSW) was introduced in 2014 to regulate these matters in relation to heavy vehicles. This change removes any duplication.
  • Removing the provision regarding affixing defective vehicle labels. In practice, authorised officers no longer attach labels to vehicles when issuing a defective vehicle notice.
  • Removing the EPA as an enforcement agency for offences relating to use of vehicles on residential premises and the use of refrigeration units fitted to motor vehicles. These clauses are principally enforced by the Police and local councils. This change requires amendment to Schedule 6 of the POEO (General) Regulation 2009.

Miscellaneous articles

  • Including a new provision that accepts the use of European Union (EU) testing, labelling and limit requirements for equivalent gardening equipment covered by the current Regulation – i.e. labels and limits for mowers, electric line trimmers and lawn edgers; and labels for chainsaws.
  • Retaining the current NSW testing, labelling and limit requirements but phase in a change to the labelling requirements to align them with the EU requirements so that labelled noise levels are comparable. The proposed change will bring the noise metric (to sound power level) in line with that used in the EU and is currently used in NSW for air conditioners. The proposed approach will allow the EU test method or the NSW test method to be used (with an adjustment factor applied to the test result to convert to sound power level). Industry will be given two years to transition to the ‘sound power’ noise metric limits and labelling requirements.
  • Broadening the scope of the provision dealing with time of use of power tools and swimming pool pumps so that it captures items the provision originally intended to capture and does not inadvertently exclude items with similar noise impacts.
  • Retaining the labelling requirements for domestic air conditioners unchanged. A national approach to labelling of air conditioners is currently being considered as part of the Commonwealth’s Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) scheme. If that scheme is implemented as expected the requirements for labelling in the Regulation will be removed.

Marine vessels

  • All provisions unchanged.

Inspection and testing of articles

  • Moving all technical content including Schedule 2 and the technical basis documents referred to in this part into an EPA-approved methods document.
  • Refer to sound power level as the noise metric.

Shooting ranges

  • Specify the assessment procedure for noise from shooting ranges.

2. Why are the changes being made to the Noise Control Regulation?

Overall, the review found the Regulation is working well and continues to be required for managing neighbourhood noise. The proposed changes are being made to:

  • improve flexibility for industry in complying with the labelling and limit provisions for noisy equipment
  • better align labelling and limit systems with international best-practice
  • improve clarity and protection for the community and improve certainty about requirements.

The proposed changes are not expected to result in any increase in enforcement and compliance costs. They are likely to result in reduction in enforcement costs for enforcement agencies associated with improved clarity of provisions and a reduction in compliance costs for the portable gardening equipment industry associated with increased

3. When will the proposed Regulation be finalised?

After the closing date, the EPA will review all submissions and make any changes required to the proposed Regulation to address issued raised. In accordance with the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989 the proposed Regulation will be made by 1 September 2017 and will also commence on this date.

4. How will the proposed Regulation be implemented?

The implementation process will include gazettal of the Approved Methods document to coincide with the commencement of the Regulation and updating all support material on EPA’s web site to reflect the new Regulation. All stakeholders will be notified of the commencement of the Regulation via mail or email as appropriate. Based on the results of the consultation the EPA will prepare any additional material required to support the implementation of the Regulation.

5. What are the proposed changes to the limit and labelling provisions?

The current 2008 Regulation requires limits and labels for grass cutting machines and only labels for chainsaws, air-conditioners, mobile garbage compactors, mobile air compressors and pavement breakers.

The proposed Regulation still requires the above, however the noise levels for the limits and labels are in terms of sound power level instead of sound pressure level. The actual noise limits for grass cutting machines have not changed. The proposed Approved Methods document includes a simple conversion factor for this change. The change in metric will ensure alignment with the metric used internationally and facilitate easier comparison of noise levels. Industry has up to 1 September 2019 to comply with the change to the new noise metric.

The proposed Regulation also allows those grass cutting machines that meet limits in the European Union to comply with the Regulation. This applies to lawn mowers, and electric models of string trimmers and edge cutters which are a subset of the range of grass cutting machines covered under the Regulation. This means that any lawn mowers and electric string-trimmers and edge-cutters that are already labelled for the EU market and show they comply with the EU Outdoor Noise Directive by showing the EU marking of conformity will automatically comply with the proposed Regulation. This approach also applies to labelling of chainsaws. That is, any chainsaw that is already labelled for the EU market will comply with NSW labelling requirements. These proposed changes will save suppliers and importers from the need to re-label these items in accordance with NSW requirements.

Both the proposed change in metric and the EU related provisions will assist in a move to a national approach in the future.

6. Why has the offence for sale of horns been removed when the offence for sale of vehicle intruder alarms remains?

Based on field experience, EPA officers have found the offence for the sale of horns increasingly difficult to enforce due to changing purchase practices. Horns can be purchased online from international suppliers as they can be self-installed. This makes it difficult to control the sale of horns. The installation of vehicle intruder alarms on the other hand is more specialised and is often carried out by the supplier. Hence, purchase practices of vehicle intruder alarms are more likely to be locally focussed and hence easier to regulate. The current provisions dealing with the installation and use of horns is considered to sufficiently address excessing noise from horns and these have been carried forward into the proposed Regulation.

7. Why don't more items such as leaf blowers have noise limits and labels?

Although there is potential to widen the scope of the current limit and labelling provisions in NSW to include additional articles such as leaf blowers, noise limits for articles are best set at the national level to reflect the national nature of the market. The EPA has been championing a national approach for labelling portable gardening equipment and air conditioners through national working groups since 2008. The proposed Regulation will retain the existing noise limits and labelling provisions for gardening equipment, but include changes that will make compliance easier by introducing flexibility, and facilitate a move to a national approach if that occurs in the future.

8. What does the Approved Methods document contain?

The Approved Methods document contains:

  • the testing methods currently in the 2008 Regulation for motor vehicle horns and alarms, air conditioners grass-cutting machines, chainsaws, mobile garbage compactors, mobile air compressors and pavement breakers
  • the updated and improved information from the Technical Basis documents referred to in the 2008 Regulation for grass cutting machines, chainsaws, mobile air compressors and pavement breakers
  • the EU labelling and testing procedures as allowed alternative procedures for grass cutting machines and chainsaws
  • the equation to convert sound pressure level to the required new metric, sound power level.

It is proposed to publish this document in the NSW Government Gazette to coincide with the commencement of the proposed Regulation once made.

The testing methods for motor vehicles are referred to in the proposed Regulation.

9. What is the difference between sound pressure and sound power?

Sound is a mechanical wave caused by the displacement of air. Sound power is a measure of the total sound energy released from the source over a unit of time. Sound pressure on the other hand is a measure of the change in pressure from average atmospheric pressure that the sound waves cause at a distance from the source and is used to reflect the sound a person would hear at a distance from the source. Essentially it is a cause and effect relationship with sound power the cause and sound pressure the effect. Sound power is analogous to the wattage of an electric heater. How the warmth of that heater is felt at a distance is analogous to sound pressure. Sound power dissipates over distance, and so the further from the source the lower the sound pressure will be. The move to sound power provides a more consistent measure of sound at the source and reflects the approach used in the European Union and for air conditioners. Sound power is often considered a better way to compare noisy articles as it provides a basis for comparing noise sources and can be used to calculate the sound pressure at specified distance.

10. Why is the measurement procedure for shooting ranges included in the proposed Regulation?

The measurement of noise from shooting ranges requires special techniques because the noise is generated in short peaks. In 2015, to improve clarity and simplify measurements the EPA published guidance in Target Shooting Ranges: Application Note for Assessing Compliance (EPA, 2015). Whilst this document provides clarity on the method that should be used, there has been some concern from stakeholders that the guidance does not provide a mandated method. Formalising the key measurement and analysis components of the Application Note by including it in the proposed Regulation will improve certainty on the required technique for measuring noise from shooting ranges.

Supporting information for the existing Regulation

The EPA website contains various webpages providing support material for the existing (2008) Regulation including:

In addition, the EPA has published various brochures for dealing with neighbourhood noise, building intruder alarms, motor vehicle noise and noise abatement orders available online and also from Environment Line 131 555.


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