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Concordia researchers develop a noise measuring framework for modular construction factories

Smart sound management can improve off-site worker safety, health and productivity
February 18, 2020
Joohnee Lee and Sang Hyeok Han: “Noise study is only used on the safety side now, but we expect that noise levels also relate to workers’ performance and overall productivity.”

Construction sites have grown considerably quieter in recent years. It isn’t your imagination: thanks to a boom in modular construction, more and more work that has traditionally been done on-site has moved indoors.

However, while this trend increases worker productivity, its effect on worker health and safety remains unknown, specifically when it comes to noise.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, researchers at Concordia propose a new framework to predict noise levels in modular construction factories and workplaces using probability-based modelling and acoustic condition simulations. They believe their work can help calculate workers’ exposure to noise, and so lead to improved health and safety conditions.

“Many companies just focus on improved productivity when they move their tools and machines indoors,” says Sang Hyeok Han, an assistant professor in the Department of Building, Civil, and Environmental Engineering at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. “But in this study, we are showing companies that they should also consider mitigating noise exposure to their workers.”

Han is also a member of Concordia’s new Centre for Innovation in Construction and Infrastructure Engineering and Management (CICIEM). He co-authored the paper with Joonhee Lee, an assistant professor in his same department. Their PhD student Sanam Dabirian is the paper’s lead author.

Mapping the sources

In order to get a clear understanding of the noise exposure workers in modular factories are subject to, the researchers used sound level meters to measure decibel levels at a modular factory in Edmonton over 13 days. The source of noise came from typical construction factory equipment such as air compressors, cutting machines, conveyors, hammering, nailing and so on.

Using statistical modelling and geometrical acoustical simulations, they then calculated and assessed overall noise levels and generated a noise map. They were able to compare the noise exposure levels to the existing provincial and federal guidelines to evaluate the risk faced by the factory workers.

Lee believes that having the information to mitigate noise exposure will not only benefit the workers; it will likely have an effect on the company’s bottom line.

“Noise study is only used on the safety side now, but we expect that noise levels also relate to workers’ performance and overall productivity at the plant,” he says. “By optimizing the factory’s layout based on noise information, a company can reduce noise exposure to workers without sacrificing productivity.”

A booming market

The study’s co-authors cite statistics from other researchers saying 43 per cent of Canadian workers have been in noisy workplaces and 56 per cent were vulnerable to workplace noise.

They further note that the modular construction industry is growing rapidly. With applications in commercial, residential, health-care and educational sectors, it has a global market value that is expected to reach nearly $175 billion by 2025 from an estimated $111 billion in 2018. Studies by the McKinsey Global Institute state that modular construction can reduce construction and overall lifetime costs by 20 per cent and construction schedules by up to 50 per cent, at the same time improving construction quality and energy and seismic performance.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Development program supported this research.

Read the cited paper: “Stochastic-based noise exposure assessment in modular and off-site construction.”


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