3.1 What is noise?
Section 3(1) of the Act defines noise as sound (heard) and vibration (felt).
Sound is energy from vibrations that travel through the air or other media (including water, ground or structures) that can be heard. Vibrations can sometimes also be felt.
Noise can be unwanted in some circumstances, for example when it is unpleasant, loud, or disturbing.
Why noise is an issue
At certain levels or frequencies, noise can pose a risk to the quality of our environment. It can affect human health and interfere with the enjoyment of a place.
Noise from businesses can harm the health and wellbeing of neighbours, especially when it interrupts sleep. Excessive noise can cause stress, anxiety and irritability, and reduce quality of life. Ongoing noise with negative characteristics can seriously impact people’s health.
People commonly report noise impacts associated with :
- short, sharp noises such as hammering or metal-on-metal contact
- tonal noises such as humming, whining and buzzing.
3.2 Unreasonable noise
Under section 166 of the Act, a person must not emit or permit the emission of unreasonable noise from a place or premises that are not residential premises. This includes unreasonable noise from commercial, industrial and trade premises.
Unreasonable noise means:
- noise that is unreasonable having regard to the following
- its volume, intensity or duration
- its character
- the time, place and other circumstances in which it is emitted
- how often it is emitted
- any prescribed factors, and
- noise that is prescribed to be unreasonable noise.
It does not include noise prescribed not to be unreasonable noise.
This definition provides two separate and independent ways of determining if the noise emitted is unreasonable noise:
- when noise is unreasonable having regard to the factors listed in (a)(i) to (v), or
- when noise is prescribed in the Regulations to be unreasonable noise.
This means that even when a person has complied with the provisions for prescribed unreasonable noise under paragraph (b) of the definition, that noise could still be found to be unreasonable under paragraph (a).
This could be relevant when the noise is emitted from a source that is not well represented by the assessment method in EPA publication 1826 Noise limit and assessment protocol for the control of noise from commercial, industrial and trade premises and entertainment venues (the Noise Protocol).
There will also be circumstances where a noise source cannot be assessed under paragraph (b) of the definition as it is emitted from a source that is not to be taken into account, as listed under regulation 117. These noise sources will be assessed by the factors in paragraph (a) of the definition rather than their compliance with the noise limits.
Refer to part 4 of this guide for more information on regulation 117, the Noise Protocol and detailed noise assessments.
Under paragraph (a) of the definition of unreasonable noise, noise can be unreasonable noise based on any one factor or a combination of factors in (a)(i) to (v) (not necessarily all of them). However, the presence of a factor or multiple factors, and the level of contribution they make to potential non-compliance, will be considered by EPA in accordance with publication 1798 Compliance and enforcement policy.
Compliance with the duty not to emit unreasonable noise should be balanced with implementation of reasonably practical controls by the noise emitter under the general environmental duty.
Frequency spectrum is a prescribed factor under regulation 120, for the purposes of paragraph (a)(v) of the definition of unreasonable noise. This prescribed factor is relevant to noise from commercial, industrial and trade premises. Refer to EPA publication 1996, Noise guidelines: Assessing low frequency noise for more information on low frequency noise.
Refer to unreasonable noise guidelines for detailed guidance on unreasonable noise under the Act.
3.3 Aggravated noise
Under section 168 of the Act, a person must not emit, or permit the emission of noise that is prescribed to be aggravated noise. Noise from commercial, industrial and trade premises is prescribed to be aggravated noise if the effective noise level exceeds a certain level or noise limit prescribed in regulation 121 (discussed in more detail in part 5 of this guide).
3.4 General environmental dutyThe GED is central to Victoria’s environment protection laws. It requires anyone engaging in an activity that may give rise to risks of harm to human health or the environment from pollution or waste, to minimise those risks so far as reasonably practicable. The GED applies to all people in Victoria.
Pollution may include the emission of noise. This means that people in management and control of commercial, industrial and trade premises that may create a risk of harm to people and the environment through the emission of noise must understand and proactively manage that risk.
This could include implementing controls and systems to minimise the risk of harm from noise and its effects so far as reasonably practicable; using and maintaining those controls and systems responsibly. It also includes evaluating the ongoing effectiveness of noise controls. For example, by checking the performance of noise control measures when they are installed and over time.
The GED is separate to, and operates independently of, the unreasonable noise provisions of the Act and Regulations. This means that compliance with the unreasonable noise provisions in Part 7.6 of the Act or Part 5.3 of the Regulations will not of itself mean compliance with the GED has been achieved. Comparatively, complying with the GED does not mean that it is impossible for a duty holder to emit unreasonable noise.
For example, under the GED, a factory operator must assess and manage risk of harm so far as reasonably practicable and consider additional controls to manage this risk. While this operator complies with their relevant noise limits under the regulations, the noise they emit has a character (thumping low-frequency noise in this example) that impacts a nearby resident’s ability to sleep at a level that could constitute 'harm' and could be considered unreasonable under paragraph (a) of the definition. To remedy the non-compliance, the factory operator will need to consider additional controls to prevent harm to nearby residents, so far as reasonably practicable.
Refer to EPA publication 1856 Reasonably Practicable for more information about what the term ‘reasonably practicable’ means under the Act and how to demonstrate it.
When the initial risk of harm has been minimised so far as reasonably practicable, the operator then has an ongoing obligation to assess and manage risk. This should include continual assessment of the risk, such as conducting regular plant inspections and maintenance, periodic assessment of noise emissions, and taking opportunities for ongoing improvement by upgrading controls when installing new machinery or components and replacing ageing equipment with quieter options over time.
Refer to EPA publication 1695 Assessing and controlling risk: A guide for business and EPA’s website for more information on risk management.
Duty holders should also consider any applicable noise limits and the factors in paragraph (a) of the definition of unreasonable noise when conducting risk assessments and planning how to minimise risk so far as reasonably practicable. By appropriately minimising the risk associated with noise emissions duty holders can reduce the likelihood of emitting unreasonable noise.
See part 3.2 of this document for further information on the factors in paragraph (a) of the definition of unreasonable noise or refer to unreasonable noise guidelines for detailed guidance on unreasonable noise determined by factors under the Act. See part 4 of this document for further information on noise limits and prescribed unreasonable noise.
Reviewed 30 June 2023