The new noise guidelines: What you need know


Changes to the World Health Organisation guidelines on noise mean that the impact of sound is becoming more important than ever. Anne Budd, a board member of the Association of Noise Consultants, gives an insight into some of the main points raised

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Environmental Noise Guidelines (ENG) 2018, state that exposure to noise presents the largest health risk to the population of Western Europe, second only to poor air quality.

Environmental noise can have negative impacts on health and wellbeing and is a well-recognised public health risk.

These impacts can include cardiovascular disease, annoyance, sleep disturbance and distractions in activities such as reading and conversation. The latest guidance from the WHO replaces the 1999 guidelines, which were used extensively as part of noise impact assessments.

As a result, their introduction is likely to affect the way we assess noise impact in the future.

The technical approach

Since publication in October 2018, the implications of the WHO’s ENG document for the UK have been under discussion and some key points to consider include:

  • Although the ENG supersedes all other WHO publications, the 2018 version does not fully replace the CNG (community noise guidelines) 1999.
  • The CNG indoor guideline values, general recommendations for non-specific noise sources and others not covered by the ENG remain valid.
  • The ENG complements the NNG (night noise guidelines) 2009.

After 20 years in circulation, it was felt necessary to update the WHO ENG to take into account the masses of research that has been done around the world in that timeframe on the exposure-response relationships for various health effects of noise.

It was also deemed necessary to review if any interventions are effective at reducing exposure or ill health effects relating to noise.

The new WHO ENG are based on nine systematic reviews of research undertaken in the period 1999-2015 covering:

  • Cardiovascular diseases.
  • Annoyance.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Cognitive impairment.
  • Hearing impairment and tinnitus.
  • Diabetes and metabolic effects.
  • Adverse birth outcomes.
  • Quality of life, mental health and wellbeing.
  • Interventions to reduce noise and improve health.

The review process has led to the formation of new guideline levels, with each one presented alongside a recommendation strength (relating to the research) of a “strong recommendation” or “conditional recommendation.”

The guidelines cover noise from road, rail and aircraft, as well as wind turbine and leisure noise (at venues and on personal listening devices). They provide robust public health advice underpinned by evidence, which the WHO says is “essential to drive policy action that will protect communities from the adverse effects of noise.”

The guidelines have not been formally adopted by any UK government, although DEFRA and the Scottish government are currently reviewing implications of the WHO ENG on existing policy.

However, the 1999 Guidelines are superseded in part, and professional acoustic consultants are well-placed to offer advice on the best approach, taking into account the current position.

Seeking advice

As the issue of sound becomes more important than ever, the Association of Noise Consultants (ANC) works with the authorities, partners and other stakeholders to establish the best way forward to address noise in our communities.

ANC is the voice of professional consultancy in acoustics, noise and vibration in the UK. Its purpose is to highlight how ANC member companies lead the way to improve acoustics for the whole of society – and to promote high standards and good practice in the industry.

ANC member companies provide consultancy advice across all areas of the acoustics, noise and vibration sectors to support the built environment, transportation and entertainment sectors.

Members also aid the wellbeing and comfort of building users across the whole spectrum of use in public, private and commercial places.

Ultimately, good acoustics can do much to improve and enhance our environments.

The early engagement of acoustic consultancy services is recommended to achieve the right outcomes in the control of noise – and to help take control of an issue that is clearly having an impact on peoples’ quality of life across the UK.



Anne Budd

Anne Budd

Board Member

Association of Noise Consultants

Tel: +44 (0)20 8253 4518

Twitter: TheANC73

LinkedIn: Association of Noise Consultants


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