Noise is among the most significant issues for communities located near mining projects. The growth in public awareness and expectations about environmental performance has led mining companies to focus their attention on the management and mitigation of potential impacts.

Noise can interfere with day-to-day activities, particularly relaxing at home in the evening and trying to sleep at night. Noise from the resources sector is a common source of community concern, because operational noise can be generated on a continuous basis. Large mines plan to operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and a mine may operate for many years. As the mine develops over a wide area, different receivers are affected at different stages of the mine life.

Although quarries may not operate continuously throughout the night, they may prefer to commence loading at sunrise and work into the evening. They are also often located much closer to residences than are mine sites. Ancillary processes, such as transport of product by road, rail or ship, including port operations, also generate their own unique noise impacts.

While site noise at source, or even at the site boundary, is generally well understood and is within the control of the mine, understanding the likelihood of complaint is far more complex, for two key reasons:

  • Changes in meteorological conditions can result in significant daily fluctuations in noise levels at receivers (for identical on-site operations). This is primarily a factor of wind direction and prevalence of temperature inversions.
  • Sensitivity to noise can vary significantly from person to person, and carries a degree of subjectivity.

In other words, what happened yesterday is no indication of what will happen today, and the fact that one resident is happy does not mean that their neighbour is—or that the person to whom they sell their house will be. Whether the mine or the resident was ‘there first’ has little relevance in whether the noise is judged offensive, and if a newly-arrived resident is dissatisfied the mine could be considered to be in breach of its approval conditions.

An acoustic consulting company can assist mine management to conduct detailed analysis including interpreting state regulation, undertaking noise measurements and predictions, assessing potential impacts and designing mitigation measures. Such consultancies need to be effectively managed by the mine’s managerial, operational and/or environmental teams, who need to have an informed appreciation of the important issues.

This chapter provides an overview of how a mine can achieve leading practice in environmental noise management during three critical phases of mine development:

  • Planning phase (environmental assessments)—In this phase, the mining project proponent establishes the existing environmental conditions and identifies potential impacts and mitigation methods, including optimisation of the mine layout or the way in which the exploration program is conducted.
  • Exploration, development and detailed design phase (management plan)—Once a mine development has been approved there is more certainty about a project and the opportunity for business to invest more heavily in the detailed design. This phase may involve repeating many of the tasks undertaken in the planning phase, to establish a comprehensive noise management plan. The plan should detail the methods for managing and monitoring noise, in compliance with the mine’s environmental objectives, and arrangements for proactive liaison with the community.
  • Construction, commissioning and operations (monitoring and audit programs)— This is the phase in which most noise is generated on site. Management activities focus on ensuring that the management plan is implemented and quality objectives are continually verified, and responding to any complaints.

The benefits of leading practice environmental management to minimise noise are immediate. While some may require an upfront capital investment, they ultimately provide cost savings through increased efficiency and, in many instances, improved occupational health and safety.

In addition to benefiting individual companies in the short term, effective noise management will benefit the wider the resources sector, both economically and in terms of improved community attitudes towards mining activities.

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