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Construction boundary monitoring: protecting workforces and communities

Construction boundary monitoring: protecting workforces and communities

Industry expert Tim Turney at occupational hygiene and workplace hazard monitoring expert Casella, shares how environmental boundary monitoring can help identify potential hazards, ensure compliance, and protect the public from health hazards

By Tim Turney

Construction dust can compromise air quality, environmental noise pollution can be harmful to workers and local residents, and excessive vibration can have damaging consequences. Site management has a duty of care to protect against potentially dangerous conditions. However, this can be challenging to manage without reliable data streams and instrumentation that gathers environmental information. Consequently, more companies are turning to boundary monitoring technology to measure the risks and ensure they adhere to environmental limits and guidelines. 

Site boundary or “fence line” monitoring is used widely on construction sites and other high-risk locations including demolition projects, mines and quarries and environmental remediation sites. Boundary monitoring units are set up on the exterior perimeter of the worksite to monitor for potential hazards that might cause compliance issues for the site or present a health risk to site neighbors. It is an essential part of the safety and risk management ecosystem of these sites, and helps control and mitigate potential environmental, health, and reputational risks.

Identifying potential hazards

Hazards that are typically monitored for include excess levels of dust, noise, vibration and, in some cases, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Volatile organic compounds include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short and long-term adverse health effects, and if these are present on a site or work their way into soil or groundwater, they can present a hazard to future development or remediation of a work site or property.

Achieving compliance

There are stringent legal and environmental controls surrounding levels of noise, dust and vibration that construction projects cannot exceed. For example, in the US, the Noise Control Act of 1972 establishes a national policy to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare. While primary responsibility for noise control rests with State and local governments, the act ensures that Federal action deals with major noise sources in commerce, control of which requires national uniformity of treatment. In New York, a city under constant renovation and construction, the Noise Code mandates that all construction must be conducted in accordance with noise mitigation plans that address the specific location, type of work, and timing of a project. Sites must be able to provide evidence of compliance and maintain their reputations, and local communities must be considered. For example, when construction activity is planned near locations such as schools, hospitals, and houses of worship, the party responsible for construction is expected to design their noise mitigation plan to be sensitive to its neighbors. If noise complaints are received, an inspector will ensure the contractor has posted the plan and that it is being followed. To achieve compliance, site monitoring must be recorded and reported on, and action taken if limits are exceeded.

If complaints arise, responsible companies using boundary monitoring have proof points to show they have been diligent with their monitoring in operations and abiding by operational requirements. Data evidence from a boundary monitoring system is also helpful if a worksite is accused of issues caused by another operation, allowing site managers to respond rapidly, minimizing reputational damage. 

Ensuring accuracy

Understanding how to mount any environmental monitor is essential to obtain accurate results. For example, noise monitors should not be mounted against flat surfaces because this will result in noise levels being overestimated. Any microphone should be above hoardings with a clear line of sight to the nearest receptor. Inlets for any real-time dust measurements should also be clear of obstacles and be mounted away from buildings, ideally between 1.5 and 4 meters above the ground. When measuring vibration, the sensor should be mounted to a concrete plinth firmly attached to the ground to ensure accurate measurements.  

Taking advantage of combined solutions  

While a variety of different monitoring solutions can be employed and combined to give a full picture of site emissions and risks, increasingly project managers and occupational hygienists are turning to combined solutions, such as the Casella Guardian2. The Guardian2 continually measures conditions on or around a worksite and provides customizable, automated reports, allowing managers to check data streams across multiple units and multiple sites remotely. Site managers are of course busy people, so as little manual maintenance of environmental monitors is key. Having a single unit that can measure parameters such as noise, dust and vibration means only one unit to install, and one set of software with which to interact and learn, making the process easier and saving time. Once units are installed at a site boundary, they need very little interaction – “set it and forget it”, as the phrase goes. They enact monitoring 24/7 without input, running either from mains, battery, or even solar powered configurations.

Preventing issues with surrounding residents 

Users can then receive automatically generated, customized reports to a set schedule, or when specific emissions limits are reached, preventing issues with surrounding residents and subsequent complaints to authorities. Limits can be used to trigger preventative measures such as dust suppression. Managers only need to check a single unit or combined data report, a more efficient method than checking multiple monitors and data sources. Alerts can be sent instantly via text, allowing sites to monitor levels around the clock and react quickly to reduce levels of dust or noise that exceed set limits and mitigate potential negative outcomes, and give site managers a reliable data source that can be accessed any time. Daily, weekly, or monthly reports can be sent directly to an email inbox in graphical or tablature format and can even be supplied directly to local authority or environmental organizations – getting ahead of potential site-visits from inspectors. If possible, baseline conditions should be established by testing before the start of operations and continued throughout the operation to observe site emissions and ensure compliance with planning conditions. Having access to real-time, near-reference data can help save site managers time, ensure environmental incidents are prevented and keep more people safe.

Casella is dedicated to reducing occupational health and environmental risks and supporting businesses in solving their monitoring and analysis needs. For more information about Casella’s noise monitoring solutions visit, https://www.casellasolutions.com/us/en.html

Tim Turney is Global Marketing Manager at Casella and graduated as an engineer from Queen Mary and Westfield in London. Since starting at Casella in 1998, Tim has been involved in the acoustics and air sampling industry, specializing in measurement and instrumentation technologies.