Safety Blog Post

Buy Quiet Power Tools

Capt. Chuck Hayden, Research Acoustical Engineer at NIOSH

Chuck Paulausky

Buy Quiet” is the NIOSH campaign for quieter machinery and tools to reduce worker noise exposure. Hear Capt. Chuck Hayden tell how to buy or rent less noisy tools. Capt. Chuck is Research Acoustical Engineer for National Institute For Occupational Safety And Health (NIOSH).

Their Power Tools Database is an extensive study of just how loud various power tools can be. You can compare manufacturers and models before you buy or rent. The link to this database is below in the transcript of this podcast.

Interview Transcript

Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
Introduction music
Chuck Hayden: All other things created equal, I would take the guy—once they wrote up their whole bid and they mentioned that they care about noise, they care about the community, they care about their workers—that’s the guy that’s going to get my business.
Dan Clark: Construction and manufacturing sites are noisy places. Workers are facing hearing loss that they don’t immediately notice. It’s a gradual and irreversible process that can be avoided with quieter tools and equipment. Buy Quiet.
Hello, I’m Dan Clark. Today were talking with Capt. Chuck Hayden, Research Acoustical Engineer for NIOSH, The National Institute For Occupational Safety And Health. Hello, Capt. Chuck.
Chuck: Hey, Dan. How are you doing?
Dan: I’m doing great. Thanks, Chuck. Before we get into power tools, what about the lowly hammer? I have to ask you about this. Is there any way you can make a quieter hammer?
Chuck: Sure there is! We’re looking for technological innovation and I’m really of the mind that the next big innovation in noise reduction is going to have to do with materials.
Dan: Hmm.
Chuck: And material design. So, I mean, you can look at the difference between a carpenter’s hammer and then a rubber mallet.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: Well, a rubber mallet’s not going to produce as much impact noise but, conversely, it’s not going to impart the necessary force that you’re looking for.
Dan: Right.
Chuck: And so, there’s somewhere in between there is a happy medium. And it’s going to have to do with the material design. So you can impart that same amount of force with a carpenter’s hammer, but yet, produce that noise level of a rubber mallet.
Dan: So it’s out there, just waiting to be discovered.
Chuck: Right.
Dan: Well, Chuck, I didn’t know that the Buy Quiet program actually started in the 70s, not as a law, but as a purchasing plan.
Chuck: Mm-hm.
Dan: The US government was a big buyer of noisy things like chainsaws and trash trucks and they realized it’s a hearing damage issue and they told their suppliers “Hey, we’ll pay more for quieter equipment.”
Chuck: Right.
Dan: Is that how it worked?
Chuck: Actually, that was through the Environmental Protection Agency.
Dan: Right.
Chuck: That office was defunded back in the 80s. The rules are still on the books at the EPA. It’s not really an actively operating program.
Dan: And then NASA realized that they needed noise abatement in the International Space Station and so they restarted the Buy Quiet program in 2006. And then your employer, NIOSH, The National Institute For Occupational Safety And Health, took NASA’s lead and launched the NIOSH Power Tools Database, which is great for industry and construction workers.
Chuck: Yeah right. What NIOSH’s Power Tools Database does is, really, it’s a demonstration project in providing noise level information to purchasers of powered hand tools. Because, one of the linchpins to a Buy Quiet program is that if you’re looking to replace equipment that you’re retiring or you’re purchasing new equipment, the availability of noise level information can be a little bit scarce. And it could take some time and effort to actually find noise level information.
If you’re going to go and purchase a circular saw, you would want to be able to look, side-by-side, look at all the specifications for a circular saw. Typically you can easily find technical specifications and purchase price, but you can’t, necessarily, get that side-by-side view of the noise level information. And that’s what the Power Tools Database does throughout the world.
Dan: I love your sound examples in that database on the NIOSH website. Here’s one: noisy circular saw cutting through one inch oak board 107 dB. (saw sound)
Second saw, 96 dB. (saw sound)
Chuck: Mm hm.
Dan: So you went through various power tools and did the same process to measure the noise level of each of these tools, right?
Chuck: All together we tested about 220 powered hand tools in the loaded condition.
Dan: Wow. That, that must have taken some time.
Chuck: Actually it took, ah, about three years . . .
Dan: Wow.
Chuck: . . . to design the different test setups because currently the ANSI standards, ISO standards for noise level testing of powered hand tools leave a little bit to be desired. For instance, circular saws, the current ANSI standards says test the tool full speed, no-load. And we can just note from experience that, typically, the noise emitting from a circular saw is not because you have an operator standing there holding it, full speed and he’s not cutting anything with it.
Dan: Well, I would think so, ‘cause a lot of the noise comes from the actual blade contact with the wood. I mean, that’s, kind of, obvious to me.
Chuck: Yes, and so we’ve tested a lot of the tools in accordance with the existing test standards. And then we designed our own test standards relevant to noise exposures.
Dan: Are tool manufacturers hopping on board, and any brands leading the way?
Chuck: Actually, not so much right now.
Dan: Oh.
Chuck: It’s sort of a two-pronged effort, Buy Quiet. One, it’s to help create a market for quieter equipment in the United States.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: One of the, uh, issues that makes manufacturers resistant to producing quieter equipment is: they may make this investment but then no one will purchase it. Part of creating the market for manufacturer’s quieter equipment is motivating the end-users to make those quiet purchases.
Dan: You don’t anticipate OSHA creating rules for individual tools that have certain noise limits?
Chuck: Ah, no. That’s one of beautiful things, really, about Buy Quiet. Buy Quiet is not some program where the federal government’s going to come in and mandate and regulate and say “Your noise level has to be 80 dBA by this time next year.”
Buy Quiet program, appropriately implemented, becomes more and more effective over time. As more folks buy quieter equipment, this produces a market-driven environment where your manufacturers are then going to be motivated to invest more in quiet technology. This is something that’s going to become more and more effective in the very long term like the five, the 10, the 15, the 20 year period.
Dan: Because it does take a while for tools to wear out.
Chuck: Sure.
Dan: Does NIOSH do any testing like that, or do you just take existing products and check their noise levels?
Chuck: Uhm, I think it’s very difficult. Again, I’m going to go back to Buy Quiet, because Buy Quiet asks—or demands—manufacturers of these tens of thousands of pieces of equipment and machinery to do their own noise emission reduction programs.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: The problem you have, and even within NIOSH, it’s very difficult for any one entity to have the resources to do a comprehensive noise control at its source . . .
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: . . . which is primarily engineering issue. One, when you don’t have the engineering drawings, you don’t have the manufacturing specifications or the operational specifications for that equipment. I think it’s a resource intensive project that can only really be done at the manufacturer’s level.
Dan: It sounds complicated.
Chuck: Right.
Dan: Chuck, you have some great tips for buying quiet: Avoid using equipment that’s overpowered or underpowered.
Chuck: Mm hm.
Dan: Electric power is usually quieter than gas or diesel gear.
Chuck: Yeah.
Dan: Hydraulically powered is quieter than pneumatic. So, just the choice of technology . . .
Chuck: Mm hm.
Dan: . . . is often a good way to make a judgment.
Chuck: Yeah, I think a good example of that: there’s an automobile manufacturing plant up in Dearborn Michigan.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: A good example of prevention through design and buying quiet is they took all of the pneumatic tools out of this assembly plant and they replaced them with electrics.
Dan: Hm.
Chuck: What ended up happening was they were able to totally eliminate the need for having a hearing conservation program—the need and the cost associated with a hearing conservation program—they were able to totally eliminate that. So they were operating at less than 85 dBA.
Dan: Wow, that’s amazing. And did they anticipate that when they began that program?
Chuck: Oh, they sure did, and they did a lot of other things. It is a green building. You go inside and it’s a quieter work environment. Very calming. And—I won’t say sedate—because there are jobs moving down the assembly line.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: In general, it’s just a more peaceful, friendly work environment.
Dan: Now, I know that quieter machines in these processes can cost more because the manufacturing tolerances are tighter, the gears mesh better, they have quieter cooling fans. Ah, is that what some manufacturers are beginning to do just to, kind of, test the waters of Buy Quiet?
Chuck: Uhm, I would say, in general, that it could be true.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: You really have to look at the noise level of the equipment next door to the price, and then do a comparative of the whole family of tools and equipment. And, really, what’s interesting is when you do that you’ll find that the loudest piece of equipment is not necessarily the least expensive.
Dan: Hm.
Chuck: And the quietest piece of equipment is not necessarily the most expensive. And that’s the benefit of doing a cost-benefit analysis of making quieter purchases.
Dan: Does the database include prices or is it just strictly the noise levels?
Chuck: NIOSH’s Power Tools Database just has technical specifications, operational specs, and noise levels.
Dan: Okay.
Chuck: The prices are going to be changing periodically.
Dan: And, you know, they may be buying used equipment.
Chuck: Sure.
Dan: It might be tempting to retrofit gear but, it’s actually better to buy low noise equipment rather than trying to retrofit it and change the machinery.
Chuck: Yeah right, for a couple reasons for that. Retrofit tends to be a little bit more expensive versus buying a quieter piece of equipment out-of-the-box.
Also, when you get into retrofitting, the designs, operational specifications can be pretty tight and so, therefore, you don’t necessarily want to change the operational efficiency and effectiveness of that piece of machinery. But when you go to the manufacturer and you request quieter equipment . . .
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: Then the manufacturer can go . . . they’ve got the computational fluid dynamics models, they have the finite element models, they have the AutoCAD drawings. They can make fine tune changes to the piece of equipment in the most effective way, and then they can further that along with lifecycle analysis. What’s the effect on job finish with regard to that change that the manufacturer just made.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: Typically, you’ll find a quieter piece of equipment is a more efficient and effectively operating piece of equipment. An example of that would be: noise is produced one of two ways. It’s either a vibration or turbulent flow. So, let’s take machinery that’s vibrating and firing off noise from its structure. If you can reduce the vibration and the noise levels that are firing off of that piece of machinery, it’s going to cut a straighter line, drill a straighter hole.
Dan: Right.
Chuck: A reduction in noise level emissions, increase the efficiency and the effectiveness of that equipment operation.
Dan: Well, Chuck, I have a question about the four elements that a company might want to do if they’re going to do a Buy Quiet program. Number one is “Make an inventory of machinery and tools you already have.” What’s the purpose of that?
Chuck: Sure, this is very important. Know what you already have on hand, and know what the noise levels of those particular tools and machinery are.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: Once you have that inventory, that’s going to assist you greatly when you go to replace specific items on that list.
Dan: So you can do some comparison shopping.
Chuck: Yes. That’s, primarily, what that inventory is for so that you know right away what you have on hand.
Dan: And this goes for people that buy, but also rent, gear.
Chuck: Yeah, that would solve that issue of when you go to rent a piece of equipment, to be able to go to the manufacturer’s database. Get that noise level before you take a piece of machinery or equipment onto your jobsite.
Dan: Alright. The second part of the Buy Quiet program, would be “a Buy Quiet company policy or procedure.” Is this a written policy that you post on the company bulletin board?
Chuck: Sure, this is a very important part of a Buy Quiet policy that you have buy-in at the highest levels of management.
Dan: Right.
Chuck: And there might be different levels of commitment for Buy Quiet, then this policy would set forth what their level of commitment would be. For example, the lowest level of commitment—and the easiest to implement out of the gate for a new Buy Quiet program—would be to just “hold the line and don’t buy anything that’s louder than what you already own.”
Dan: Oh, that’s good idea.
Chuck: And that could go all the way up to “just do it, regardless of cost,” you’re going to buy the quietest piece of equipment that’s available on the market. But, you need to establish what that level of commitment is, and document it, and then have it signed off on at the highest level of management.
And, really, having a Buy Quiet program can be as simple as setting forth that policy. At that point you can say “Hey, I’m doing Buy Quiet.”
Dan: Well, I think this is a really good idea because a lot of people may not even realize that it’s an option or a choice.
Chuck: Sure.
Dan: So, just the awareness factor is important.
Chuck: Yeah.
Dan: The third item in the Buy Quiet program: “educational materials.” Tell us about that.
Chuck: Right. The educational materials provide an advocacy. The approach there is to advocate for implementing Buy Quiet and providing noise level information of equipment.
Dan: As I understand it, you have some pretty cool posters.
Chuck: Yeah, that’s why I would encourage folks to go to the website. They can download, print these posters, and they can also watch—there’s about a five-minute video.
Dan: Oh.

Chuck: It’s really just educational video that will walk someone through “What is Buy Quiet?” “Why do we need Buy Quite?” and “How do we do Buy Quiet?”
Back to the posters. An interesting thing about the posters. They’re primarily geared towards the construction industry right now.
Dan: Right.
Chuck: You can hang those posters up outside the construction site. Let the community know that you’re committed to the smallest footprint possible in their neighborhood. You know, demonstrating good corporate citizenship. Put them on the inside of those same fences and communicate to a lot of the subcontractors and your own workers that you’re committed to reducing noise-induced hearing loss.

Posters from NIOSH
Posters from NIOSH
Dan: Hm.
Chuck: This is also competitive advantage for that construction contract.
Dan: Oh, that’s a great idea.
Chuck: All other things created equal, I would take the guy—once they wrote up their whole bid and they mentioned that they care about noise, they care about the community, they care about their workers—that’s the guy that’s going to get my business.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: So, I always look at that. And we work with a couple of construction companies and they’ve actually used that effectively.
Dan: The consumer out there, and I mean the business consumer, makes decisions based on a lot of that is well, not just money-wise.
Chuck: Right.
Dan: And then the fourth item in Buy Quiet programs is “the cost-benefit analysis.” Tell us about that.
Chuck: Well, as we talked about earlier—that cost-benefit analysis—it’s an important part of a Buy Quiet program, especially as you become more and more mature and your Buy Quiet program becomes more sophisticated. Then you’re going to want to really start looking at the cost-benefit of buying quiet. That example, going back to without doing a cost-benefit analysis . . .
Dan: Mm-hm.
Chuck: . . . you’ll never know that you can buy a quieter piece of equipment and it will actually be less expensive.
Dan: Things like workers’ comp claims, cost of hearing aids, lost productivity. A quieter piece of equipment will drop those costs, like that auto plant you were talking about.
Chuck: Sure. It’s not only the cost that the company saves by reducing noise-induced hearing loss amongst their workers, the costs associated with that, and the cost to society. There’s a cost of doing nothing. And then there might be the cost, or actual cost savings, to buying quiet.
Dan: Everybody likes to save money.
Chuck: Mm-hm. (laughs)
Dan: We’re close to the end, Chuck. Any final thoughts for a company owner or manager who’s considering a new tool purchase?
Chuck: Well, now, if we take a look at how things are—and you look across there are a number of cities that are implementing noise regulations—it’s my thinking that noise in our communities and in our workplaces, it’s not going to get louder. It’s just not going to go in that direction. There’s such a solid business case all the way around for implementing Buy Quiet and buying quieter equipment and machinery.
Dan: Well, Chuck, this is been a great conversation and hopefully the contractors or company owners that are out there will say “Hey, you know what? This Buy Quiet thing sounds great.” And so we’re going to refer everybody to the website one more time. And it is linked in the transcript of this podcast. CDC.gov/NIOSH/topics/BuyQuiet. That’s the website and we appreciate you guys putting it together.
Chuck: Thank you so much, Dan.
Dan: Our guest has been Capt. Chuck Hayden, Research Acoustical Engineer for The National Institute For Occupational Safety And Health. And we were speaking with Capt. Chuck from his NIOSH/CDC office in Cincinnati, Ohio. Thanks a lot for joining us. I’m Dan Clark.
(Outro Music with Voiceover)
Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to podcast@creativesafetysupply.com. For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
drill photo © ℗ 2014 Pixabay LoboStudioHamburg / Thomas Ulrich

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