2.1 What is noise?
Section 3.1 of the Act defines noise as including sound (heard) and vibration (felt).
Sound is energy from vibrations in 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 is noise an issue
At certain levels or frequencies, noise can pose a risk to the quality of our environment, affect human health, and interfere with the enjoyment of a place.
Noise from entertainment venues and events can harm the health and wellbeing of neighbours, especially when it interrupts sleep. Excessive noise can cause stress, anxiety and irritability, and reduce the quality of life. Ongoing noise with negative characteristics can seriously impact people’s health.
People commonly report noise impacts associated with:
- repetitive thumping of bass sounds
- tonal noises such as humming, whining and buzzing
- low-frequency noise.
2.2 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).
For example, noise from patrons arriving and departing the premises will be assessed by the factors in paragraph (a) of the definition rather than their compliance with the noise limits. Refer to part 4.1 of this guide for further information on regulation 124, the Noise Protocol and detailed noise assessments.
Under paragraph (a) of the definition, noise can be unreasonable based on any factor or combination of factors in (a)(i) to (v) (not necessarily all of them).
Frequency spectrum is a prescribed factor under regulation 120, for the purposes of paragraph (a)(v) of the definition, however, it does not apply to music noise under Division 4 of Part 5.3 of the Regulations. Instead, the night period noise limits and assessment method in the Noise Protocol apply to music noise in octave bands from 63 Hz to 4000Hz.
The Regulations prescribe when music noise emitted from entertainment venues and outdoor entertainment events will be prescribed unreasonable noise under paragraph (b) of the definition of unreasonable noise.
In most cases, an entertainment venue or outdoor entertainment event will also be a commercial, industrial and trade premises. The Regulations exclude noise from music, voices and crowds (among other sources) from the assessment of noise emitted from commercial, industrial and trade premises. However, the commercial, industrial and trade premises regulations generally apply to plant noise at entertainment venues – such as cool rooms, kitchen exhaust fans and air conditioning units. Refer to Commerce, industry and trade noise guidelines for guidance relevant to these noise sources.
Refer to unreasonable noise guidelines for detailed guidance on unreasonable noise under the Act, including paragraph (a) of the definition.
2.3. Aggravated noiseUnder section 168 of the Act, a person must not emit, or permit to be emitted, noise that is prescribed to be aggravated noise. The Regulations prescribe aggravated noise from entertainment venues and outdoor entertainment events.
2.4. Noise complaintsFor entertainment venues, section 169 of the Act gives powers to police who receive a noise complaint to direct any person apparently in charge of the venue to take action to abate unreasonable noise. The direction takes effect from midnight, or immediately if given after midnight, and remains in force until 8 am. This is intended to address impacts of night-time noise from an entertainment venue that is unreasonably disturbing its neighbours.
2.5. General environmental duty
The GED (section 25 of the Act) 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 persons in Victoria.
Pollution may include the emission of noise. As a result, persons in management and control of entertainment venues and outdoor entertainment events must understand and proactively manage the risks of harm from noise to people and the environment so far as reasonably practicable. For example, this could include implementing suitable and effective controls and systems to minimise noise and its effects so far as reasonably practicable; and using and maintaining those controls and systems.
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, music noise from a club may comply with relevant noise limits for prescribed unreasonable noise but may still emit noise that has characteristics that impact a nearby resident’s ability to sleep at a level that could constitute 'harm'. The club operator has a duty under the GED to assess and manage that risk of harm and implement additional controls to reduce the hazardous characteristics of the noise 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 that risk. This should include continual assessment of the risk, such as conducting regular equipment inspections and maintenance, periodic assessment of noise emissions, and taking opportunities for ongoing improvement by upgrading controls over time (such as installing newer noise management technology on the sound system or rig).
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 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 2.2 of this guide 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 under the Act.
2.6. Legislation outside of EPA’s noise framework
2.6.1. The Victorian Planning Provisions and agent of changeUnder regulation 122, noise from a live music entertainment venue is not prescribed unreasonable noise or aggravated noise, if that venue complies with the provisions for live music entertainment venues set out in the Victorian Planning Provisions and the relevant noise limits that apply to that same venue.
Reviewed 30 June 2023