JP Observer: Construction back-up beepers need to be changed

It’s spring. We can hear the big trucks chirping outside. (Oh, yes, and birds, too, if we listen closely enough.)

With so much construction already going on in the streets and lots of JP and just starting big-time in Forest Hills, the loud back-up beepers on construction vehicles are beeping regularly and widely. The equipment sounds less like actual birds and more like the cartoon Road Runner taunting Wile E. Coyote. “Beep… beep…”

Sometimes unwilling listeners are just driving by, but often the beeps reach JP people not in danger from trucks as they try to concentrate, work, read, enjoy a walk or even take a nap despite the unrelenting, off-on beep… beep… beep…

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has required back-up alarms louder than the ambient noise to be used on construction equipment with an obstructed reverse view for more than 30 years. The beeping devices went into use from the beginning.

In the journal “Environmental Health Perspective,” archived by the National Institutes for Health, David C. Holtzman’s 2011 article “Vehicle Motion Alarms: Necessity, Noise Pollution or Both” articulates the problems with those beepers. Typically the tonal devices produce beeps of 97-112 decibels—significantly above the threat to hearing loss of 80 decibels, he reports.

The general public and scientists have pointed out other issues with the beepers, according to Holtzman: construction people get used to tonal noise and don’t notice it; volume is difficult to adjust for actual ambient noise, so most are locked to the loudest setting; the sound travels far and is perceived as “irritating or painful” to many people.

Holtzman quotes an engineering report that cited backup beepers as “one of the six top noise sources people associate with behavioral and emotional consequences.” He adds that Boston’s Big Dig managers said noise (of all things!) generated the most public complaints about the construction, and back-up beeper noise topped the list of noise sources the public found troublesome.

In response to questions from the JP community in January, MassDOT shared its Noise Control Plan for the Casey Arborway construction project. After measuring baseline noise at different times in three residential neighborhoods near the project, DOT set noise level criteria during construction. Sometimes during the day, noise may go higher than the baseline, the plan indicates. The DOT project hotline is 617-571-7878.

Though scientists and the public seem to agree the old-time back-up beepers still used at most construction sites are not good for our health, little has been done to change them.

Brigade Electronics in UK has devised back-up alarms that alert people in the danger area only with white sound—a system that is considered to be safer and does not cause the noise pollution of beepers.

White noise alarms are the only ones allowed on construction vehicles in New York City now. Until Boston gets on board with that new technology, JP people may also call the City at 617-635-3850 or email [email protected] to report loud construction noise.

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