Category Archives: Global

OSHA is stepping up its enforcement of safety regulations, performing more workplace inspections and levying higher penalties for noncompliance. Employers need to take a fresh look at their workplaces, establish safe procedures, and ensure adequate levels of oversight. Supervisors play a critical role in reinforcing a company-wide safety culture.

The U.S. Department of Labor is taking a new look at workplace safety, and employers are in the crosshairs. “The Biden administration has become much tougher about OSHA regulations,” said Edwin G. Foulke, Jr., a former OSHA head and now a partner in the Atlanta office of Fisher and Phillips. “It has enlarged its staff of inspectors, ramped up enforcement activity, and heightened penalty amounts.”

Foulke expects OSHA to become even more aggressive over the coming year. “Employers need to be on their toes because OSHA’s looking for ways to cite them, and citing them for large amounts of money.” Cash penalties can be severe. Serious violations can run $15,625 (the amount increases annually for inflation). Willful ones—where an employer has acted with plain indifference to worker safety—are pegged at $156,259.

Another trend puts employers in still greater danger. Inspectors are increasing their use of so-called “instance by instance” violations, in which cash penalties are assessed by the number of violations in a set. “If five people are using a certain machine, and that machine is cited for noncompliance with a regulation or standard, the company may receive five citations instead of one,” said Douglas E. Witte, who represents businesses in labor and employment law matters at Madison, Wisconsin-based Boardman and Clark.

Costliest of all are accidents to third parties. “Sometimes the harmed individual is not an employee,” said Robert S. Nichols, Partner with the employment law firm of Bracewell LLP in Houston, Texas. “They could be a contractor, a vendor, or a member of the public. In such cases, the company does not have the protective barrier of workers’ compensation insurance against a lawsuit for full and punitive damages.”

Leading the Way

Now is the time to double down on protective policies and procedures. Everything starts at the top of the management pyramid. “If mid-level managers and supervisors don’t perceive an emphasis on safety from upper management, it’s much less likely they will take the topic seriously,” said William K. Principe, Partner in the Atlanta office of Constangy, Brooks, Smith and Prophete. “And it’s their combined efforts that will create an accident-free workplace.”

What starts at the top, though, must filter down through the ranks. “From a legal perspective, a business operates through its managers and supervisors,” said Nichols. “What they do or don’t do is often imputed to the employer.”

As the first line of defense against OSHA penalties, supervisors have to ensure that rules and regulations are applied throughout the workplace. “New hires must be properly trained from a safety perspective before they begin work,” said Nichols. Existing employees must also receive appropriate periodic and updated training. That can occur through monthly or weekly safety orientations, which are sometimes referred to as “toolbox” or “tailgate” meetings. Some companies schedule these at the beginning of every shift.

Getting Specific

OSHA will look for policies and practices that are site specific, noted Gary Heppner, a Cherokee, Kansas-based independent OSHA Safety Advisor. “An inspector typically goes into a shop, removes guards from a drill press, and then picks somebody at random to set up the press and drill an obscure hole in the metal. The employee’s actions must reflect training specific to that machine.”

It is not good enough, added Heppner, to just download some safety boilerplate from the Internet. “If OSHA sees that a company’s policies are too general, they may well do a fishing expedition to find out what is lacking in the program.”

Once the specific policies are in place, it is important to perform ongoing monitoring, said Foulke. “As the eyes and ears of the company, supervisors should walk the floor during the workday, not only checking the production line but also making sure people are not violating safety rules. Are they wearing their personal protective gear? Working the equipment properly? The supervisor should fill out a form that records what inspections were done and what remedial actions were taken when violations were identified.”

Obtaining Feedback

These regular workplace tours provide excellent opportunities to obtain feedback from those on the front lines. “Where supervisors often fall short is in not having employees be active safety participants,” said Witte. “Instead of just telling them how to operate a machine, establish two-way communications. Do they have additional safety concerns beyond what has been discussed? Sometimes a machine may not be working exactly as designed, and that can have safety ramifications.”

Temporary transfers of employees from one department to another often lead to safety violations and accidents. “Suppose there is a labor shortage in the warehouse and there’s an urgent need to get product onto trucks quickly,” said Heppner. “A call is made to another department that sends one or two workers to help. If these new arrivals do not receive the requisite safety training before they start work, any resulting injury can result in a citation.”

An effective safety program is not a one-and-done affair. As time passes, procedures get modified and new standards are required. “Every 3 to 6 months, it’s wise to go through your program to make sure it is still current,” said Heppner. “Any new safety issues must be addressed.”

Take special care when a new machine is added. Unfamiliar controls can lead to accidents. “Sometimes equipment vendors will send representatives to provide onsite training,” said Witte. “If employees are not present, managers and supervisors need to be there so they can pass on knowledge about how the machinery can be operated safely.”

Dealing with OSHA

An accident happens. Will the company be fined?

The answer depends to a great extent on how well the company has trained the involved employee, and how thoroughly documentation of that training has been maintained. But the employer may also be protected if the employee did not follow mandated safe work practices.

“When a citation is withdrawn by OSHA, it’s usually because the employer was able to establish a so-called ‘employee misconduct defense,’” said Foulke. For this defense to prevail, the employer must be able to provide a positive answer to each of the following four questions:

  1. Did the company establish safety rules that would have obviated the accident? “The foundation for any safety program is a set of rules that employees must follow,” said Principe. “These can include the use of personal protective equipment as well as safe standard operating procedures.”
  2. Were the safety rules communicated to the employee? “Supervisors must ensure all of the rules are communicated, from initial onboarding of the employee to continuing on-the-job training,” said Principe.
  3. Did the company monitor compliance with the safety rules? “OSHA expects you to ensure your employees are following the rules,” said Principe. This is where documented periodic workplace inspections by supervisors can make a difference.
  4. Were the rules enforced through progressive discipline? “Many companies make the mistake of only enforcing rules when there is an accident,” said Principe. “Continual enforcement is necessary, combined with progressive discipline.” An initial infraction might result in a verbal reminder of the safety rules. Repeated offenses might result in more severe penalties, up to and including dismissal.

Supervisors should create written records of all the above steps. Such documentation can be of immense help during an OSHA inspection that may result from an accident. It will provide the company representative with the information required to answer the questions from inspectors.

Because dealing with an OSHA inspection can be intimidating, Heppner recommends the use of a three-ring binder that contains the company’s safety protocols for each section of the workplace. This document will serve as powerful evidence that the company is conscientious about maintaining a safe environment. “Just slide the binder across the table to the OSHA inspectors,” said Heppner. “It will answer most of their questions.” The notebook can serve double duty as a blueprint for staff training during the year and a quick refresher course prior to OSHA’s arrival.

Being Proactive

With the threat of a recession on the horizon, and an ongoing battle with inflation, it is natural for managers to devote their energies to the challenges of marketing, production, and fulfillment. It is little wonder that the time and expense required to establish and maintain an effective safety program can appear to be an unwelcome pressure on the bottom line. “There’s no question that there’s a cost for safety, but there’s also a cost for noncompliance,” said Witte. “Those costs can include time off from work, injuries, and even deaths.”

It pays, then, to be proactive. “Having worked on a wide variety of OSHA fatality cases, I know that one of the biggest mistakes supervisors make is to think that employees are responsible for themselves, and if they make mistakes, it’s at their own risk,” said Nichols. “That’s not true. It is the supervisor’s obligation to look out for them and to correct noncompliance. And it’s the employer’s obligation to establish policies that keep workers safe from harm.”

Phillip M. Perry is an award-winning freelance writer based in New York City. His byline has appeared over 3,000 times in the nation’s business press. He can be reached at

Contact: 855-519-4044

Spray foam insulation is appropriate for a variety of applications. When applied properly, it can be an effective insulator for all kinds of projects. This article addresses some common misconceptions about spray foam and discusses the benefits of its proper application.

Misconceptions about spray foam insulation:

  1. Moisture Issues – Critics argue that spray foam insulation can trap moisture and lead to structural damage. It is important to note that moisture problems can stem from other sources unrelated to the actual spray foam product, such as roof leaks or installation errors. Spray foam is a safe and effective product—closed-cell foam increases the structural integrity of a building by up to 300%. If spray foam is installed alongside an air exchanger and regularly maintained, any potential moisture issues can be avoided.
  2. Chemical Concerns – There have been concerns about the chemicals used in spray foam insulation. Properly applied spray foam undergoes a curing process that transforms it into an inert material. This significantly reduces the risk of off-gassing or harmful emissions.
  3. Limited Application – There is a perception that spray foam insulation is only suitable for specific areas, like basements. In reality, spray foam is ideal for use in many different locations, including walls, roofs, and attics. Its versatility and ability to create an airtight seal make it a valuable insulation option for both residential and commercial buildings.

Environmental benefits of spray foam insulation:

  1. Energy Efficiency – It minimizes heat loss or gain through walls, roofs, and attics. By reducing the need for excessive heating or cooling, it lowers energy consumption and utility costs.
  2. Air Leakage Reduction – Spray foam insulation is an effective air barrier. It seals gaps and cracks, preventing air infiltration or escape. This not only enhances indoor air quality, but also helps eliminate drafts. This reduces energy used in heating or cooling and creates a more comfortable living or working environment.
  3. Sustainable Construction – Spray foam insulation offers several sustainability benefits. It improves a building’s energy efficiency, reduces carbon emissions, and supports eco-friendly building practices. Additionally, its long lifespan reduces the need for frequent updating, which reduces waste in the long term.
  4. Mold and Moisture Resistance – Properly installed spray foam insulation forms a moisture barrier, reducing the risk of mold growth and moisture-related issues. By preventing external moisture from entering a space, it contributes to maintaining a healthier indoor environment.

Spray foam insulation provide­s many benefits, including enhanced energy efficiency, improved indoor air quality, and long-term sustainability. By dispelling misconceptions and understanding its environmental advantages, we can make informed decisions regarding insulation choices and contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

Contact: 1-800-GET-PINK®

Perhaps you have heard the saying, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Owens Corning continually measures the progress we are making on our mission to build a sustainable future through material innovation. Our 17th annual sustainability report aptly titled “Our Mission at Work”—highlights our ongoing aspirations to increase the positive impact of Owens Corning products, halve our environmental footprint, protect our people, advance inclusion and diversity, and have a positive effect in the communities where we work and live. We strive every day to deliver on these goals for our stakeholders and our planet.

Sustainability has long been embedded in Owens Corning. In 2019, the executive team began developing our 2030 goals, aligning them with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. It is not just leadership driving our sustainability journey forward. Owens Corning is creating an environment where all employees are aware of the role they can play as sustainability champions. Operationalizing sustainability across the enterprise provides a clearer path toward achieving our 2030 sustainability goals.

To get down to the numbers and measurement, Owens Corning made important progress toward our sustainability goals in 2022:

  • We reduced greenhouse gas emissions by driving energy efficiency in our operations and continuing to invest in alternative forms of energy.
  • Approximately 56% of our electricity in 2022 came from renewable sources, including wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal energy.
  • Fourteen Owens Corning products have received “Made with 100% Renewable Electricity and Reduced Embodied Carbon” certification. These products give commercial architects and specifiers the option of low-carbon products to build energy-efficient structures.

Consistent with our 2030 goals, Owens Corning is committed to decarbonization. As of year-end 2022, we are at 22% of our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions reduction goal of 50% for 2030, compared with our 2018 baseline. Our goal has been verified by the Science Based Targets initiative to be in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C maximum above preindustrial levels. We have also set ambitious goals to reduce our Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions, the indirect emissions that come primarily from our supply chain.

Other sustainability measures that are helping the planet include:

  • In 2022, Owens Corning reduced our impact on air quality in the areas where we operate, reducing VOC emissions 40% and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 30% over the 2018 baseline.
  • We have achieved a 25% reduction in water withdrawal intensity from high water stress sites over the 2018 baseline.

For an unprecedented fourth consecutive year, Owens Corning was ranked number one on 3BL Media’s list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens. The list recognizes outstanding global environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance among the 1,000 largest U.S. based public companies.

Any way you add it up, measurable data demonstrate Owens Corning’s actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change through improving energy efficiency, increasing our use of renewable energy, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Contact: 800-654-3103

Contributed by JM Editors

Knowing the importance of sustainability, JM developed in 2020 a universal framework to help us navigate our sustainability journey. We developed 5-year sustainability goals and benchmarks for success/failure regarding people, planet, and profit. Now mid-cycle, we remain steadfast in our commitments to combat climate change, protect our natural resources, and contribute to the communities where our employees live and work. In 2025, we can celebrate our successes and then set new 5-year goals as we continue to work for a better future.

The Building a Better Tomorrow framework enhances our efforts today to reduce our impact on the planet and expand support for our communities around the globe. It also encompasses our aspirations for the future as we continue to innovate.

We will REDUCE our impact on the planet by minimizing the creation and landfilling of waste. We will strive to cut emissions and reduce costs by using less energy to make our products. We want to optimize our inputs to use/reuse more recycled materials and renewable sources.

By 2025, our goals are to:

  • Reduce our waste intensity by another 10%. Over the last 10 years, JM reduced its waste intensity by 23%, and we plan to further reduce our waste intensity by another 10%.
  • Use at least 2 billion pounds of post-consumer/industrial materials. Over the next 5 years, we will use at least 2 billion pounds of post-consumer/industrial materials in our processes—predominantly glass, polypropylene, and polyester.

We will EXPAND support of our global workforce and the communities we serve by continuing to focus on the safety of our employees and prevention of injuries. Additionally, we will continue to increase our focus on the diversity and inclusiveness of our workforce across the company.

We are well-positioned to INNOVATE. A large proportion of our product offerings bring tremendous energy-efficiency benefits over extended product life cycles, saving exponentially more energy throughout their long usable life compared to the amount of energy required to produce them. However, we will need to be able to design and redesign products with the circular economy in mind. We will also explore technologies and business processes to allow us to chart a path for a decarbonized future.

By 2025, JM will:

  • Offer more energy-efficient products. Combining innovative technologies, leading-edge engineering, and design with intent principals, we will develop more energy-efficient products and promote the value of our portfolio to increase the net positive benefit to our world by more than 10%.
  • Chart our path. We will chart our path to a lower carbon future. We are well-positioned to partner with our suppliers to convert to renewable energy sources. Key to our long-term path forward will be exploring alternative energy sources and developing a more complete understanding of the impact of our raw material supply chain as the use of fossil fuels is phased out.

Building a Better Tomorrow means creating benefits that improve the lives of our customers and stakeholders. It also generates value for our company and empowers our businesses—Roofing Systems, Insulation Systems, and Engineered Products—to produce solutions that fundamentally work to increase comfort and save people money while reducing their carbon footprint.

Learn more about JM’s sustainability efforts by visiting

Contact: 716-768-6500

Alkegen is a global leader in developing and providing high-performance specialty materials and is fiercely committed to creating products that help its customers reduce fossil fuel use; save energy; and improve fire safety for people, buildings, and equipment. Across its global operations, Alkegen works to create materials that have a positive impact on people’s lives and the environment. In 2023, Alkegen published its first sustainability report, which highlights the company’s contributions to a more sustainable world and brings transparency to its environmental goals and targets. Alkegen recognizes that Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives play a substantial role in the execution of its vision and values by helping manage opportunities and risks in a sustainable manner that optimizes value for the company’s stakeholders.

Alkegen’s ESG Committee sets the direction of the company’s ESG program and the execution of ESG initiatives and projects. It has one executive per pillar and holds ultimate responsibility for achieving the company’s goals and targets. To reflect the importance of achieving these goals and targets, there are at least 75 employees in the Alkegen organization with an ESG-related job. Alkegen recognizes that if it is to succeed in delivering value to stakeholders, the right culture must be fostered. Across all sites there is a strong awareness of environmental and regulatory responsibilities,which drives continuous education, compliance, and protective actions.

In late 2021, Alkegen conducted its first materiality assessment, designed to assess the most relevant ESG impacts to the company’s business. The assessment output identified high-priority ESG topics and informed the company’s sustainability strategy. Accordingly, in 2023, Alkegen’s focus continues to be on employee health and safety; reducing the environmental impact of our operations and our product portfolio; supply chain management; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Examples of Alkegen’s recent environmental achievements include:

  • Integrating processes and procedures of two separate companies, taking the best environmental practices from each.
  • Building and compiling data in an electronic repository from all our global sites on emissions, water usage, and waste; and actioning a procedure to review the data monthly.
  • Setting 2030 Environmental Performance Targets for emissions, water, and waste reduction.
  • Achieving environmental successes such as implementing initiatives at our facility in Tonawanda, New York, resulting in 90% of water now being recycled.

Internally, Alkegen also developed the “SEEDS” initiative to clarify and organize Alkegen’s ESG goals related to Safety, Environment, Engagement, Diversity, and Social. The SEEDS initiative will be used to communicate to all Alkegen employees the efforts within those areas. All these efforts demonstrate Alkegen’s dedication to engineering high-performance specialty material solutions that help us all live greener, breathe easier, and go further than ever before. Moreover, Alkegen’s strategy aligns with the NIA’s recognition of the necessity that companies in the mechanical insultation industry further advance ongoing sustainability discussions to find ways to reduce waste, save energy, and decarbonize operations.


Aeroflex USA manufactures the AEROFLEX® brand of EPDM closed-cell elastomeric foam insulation for the North American market. With a systems approach in mind, we offer owners, engineers, and contractors single-source responsibility with low-VOC-engineered accessories to assist with the design of AEROFLEX EPDM™ insulation systems—adhesives, tapes, insulated pipe supports, and protective coatings.

AEROFLEX is primarily specified and installed on below-ambient mechanical systems, with the design intent for energy efficiency, condensation control, and acoustic attenuation. Typical systems include HVAC, refrigerant, plumbing piping, equipment, and ductwork. AEROFLEX EPDM delivers the following built-in sustainability features:

  • Product-Specific Type III Environmental Product Declaration (EPD);
  • Third Party-Verified Health Product Declarations (HPDs);
  • Indoor Advantage™ Gold Certified for low chemical emissions;
  • Naturally microbial-resistant—no EPA-registered antimicrobial ingredients added;
  • Ultra-low PVC content (< 1%);
  • Free of EPA TSCA substances, PBDEs, formaldehyde, nitrosamine, and fibers;
  • REACH and RoHS-compliant; and
  • No ozone-depleting materials utilized in manufacturing (CFCs, HFCs, HCFCs).

Additionally, AEROFLEX can contribute to LEED®-registered projects for the following credit categories:

  • Energy and Atmosphere (EA)
  • Prerequisite: Minimum Energy Performance
  • Credit: Optimize Energy Performance
  • Materials and Resources (MR)
  • Credit: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – EPDs
  • Credit: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – HPDs
  • Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ)
  • Credit: Low-Emitting Materials
  • Credit: Indoor Air Quality Assessment
  • Credit: Thermal Comfort
  • Credit: Acoustic Performance
  • Innovation (IN)
  • Credit: Occupant Comfort Survey

For the convenience of green project researchers and specifiers, AEROFLEX can be located on the following online green product databases:

The emphasis on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) has grown over the last few years, and so have NIA members’ efforts to reduce their footprint. The insulation industry has always known that insulation materials are greener than most building materials, but this recent focus allows insulation to shine. Mechanical insulation products have low embodied carbon, save more energy during their use than the energy needed to manufacture the materials, are sometimes made from recycled content, and also reduce energy use and CO2 emissions. Insulation should be prioritized when a company is considering ESG goals since an investment in insulation pays for itself, and owners achieve a double benefit of dual gains for energy and environmental goals.

NIA invited all member companies to share their ESG efforts with Insulation Outlook readers. In this special section, responses received from five companies are presented (in alphabetical order): Aeroflex USA, Alkegen, Johns Manville, Owens Corning, and Specialty Products & Insulation. Readers can also catch up on past member columns about recycling, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), and sustainability at To continue to enhance our readers’ product knowledge, the September 2023 issue will have a special section devoted to materials for Industrial Insulation Systems and CUI Mitigation.

If your company would like to participate in the upcoming column or share its ESG and green practices in a future issue, email

The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and Ambition Theory announce the release of Building Better, a report based on a survey of 770 women across a variety of construction sectors. The work identifies three main action items for the industry to focus on: providing women with leadership opportunities, investing in training, and prioritizing work-life balance.


Women in construction want to be leaders. Seeing a clear path to career advancement is the most important factor for women with more than 1 year of industry experience who are seeking new job opportunities. Despite this ambition, women still do not advance at the same rate as their male counterparts. In fact, 72% of the women surveyed have rarely or never had a woman manager or supervisor. The research reveals a lack of sponsorship as a critical barrier preventing women’s career progression.

“Unlike mentors who offer advice and share stories, sponsors actively advocate for women, extend invitations to key meetings, and invest in their success. By providing exposure to new opportunities and endorsing women’s capabilities, sponsors can play a pivotal role in accelerating women’s path to leadership,”  said Andrea Janzen, Ambition Theory Founder and CEO.

Unfortunately, this research shows that women receive sponsorship half as often as mentorship. Companies looking to advance more women into leadership positions should shift from a mentorship mindset to one of sponsorship. Building Better shares several ways organizations can begin making this shift.


One of the keys to career advancement is training, and the report highlights the need to make training more accessible to women. Young women tend to have less exposure to construction and a great desire to learn, so companies that do provide training not only bring women into the industry but also keep them in the industry.

“While salary is the primary motivator for women getting into the construction industry, once they are in, career advancement becomes the reason they stay. Training is one way for companies to show their commitment to providing growth opportunities to their employees,” said Tim Taylor, Director of Research at NCCER.

Work-Life Balance

The study’s other key finding was the importance of work-life balance for women in construction. For the women surveyed, having flexible work options is not about working from home. It is about the availability of work options that balance the needs of employees, team members, and the realities of project schedules.

Building Better acknowledges that there will inevitably be differences between flexibility options for office and field employees, but that does not mean improvements cannot be made. The research compiles suggestions employers should consider around workday hours, time off, and childcare options.

To download Building Better: A Women in Construction Study, go to

About Ambition Theory – Ambition Theory is dedicated to driving systemic change in the construction industry. We offer leadership training and coaching designed specifically for the construction industry that equips individuals with transformational leadership skills essential for advancement. We believe that it is the responsibility of industry leaders and companies to create a more inclusive and diverse environment, and we work collaboratively with organizations to make that a reality. Listen to our Ambition Theory: Women in Construction podcast and learn more at


More than 48 million people are affected by hearing loss in the United States. One of the most common causes of hearing loss is exposure to loud noise, referred to as noise induced hearing loss. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called noise induced hearing loss the most common work-related injury. Workers in the mining, construction, and manufacturing industries are most likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of noise. Many times, hearing loss is accompanied by tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that can affect concentration and disrupt sleep. Exposure to loud noise also can cause stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and other health issues.

Controlling noise exposure is a key element of any workplace safety and health program. The Hierarchy of Controls is a method of selecting the most appropriate control measure when a workplace hazard has been identified. It is often depicted graphically as an upside-down pyramid with five layers: elimination, substitution, engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment (PPE). The most effective control measure is at the top of the pyramid, and the least effective control is at the bottom. Oftentimes, more than one control measure is needed, but one should always consider control measures higher on the hierarchy first.

Engineering and administrative controls are not just a recommended best practice, they are required by federal regulation when noise levels are too high. OSHA’s standard on occupational noise exposure states that feasible administrative or engineering controls must be utilized first, and only then can PPE be used to further lower employee noise exposure. Hearing protection in the form of ear plugs or ear muffs should be a last resort after engineering and administrative controls have been used.

Like most OSHA health standards, the standard on occupational noise exposure starts with an exposure assessment. There are two trigger levels in the noise standard: a permissible exposure limit of 90 decibels, measured on the A scale (90 dBA); and an action level of 85 dBA. Both are measured using an 8-hour, time-weighted average (TWA). Noise exposure can be determined with a sound level meter for area sampling, or with a personal noise dosimeter worn by employees for a full shift that determines their “dose” of noise exposure (100% dose is equal to the permissible exposure limit of 90 dBA TWA). NIOSH has a free app that turns your phone into a sound level meter (currently only available for iOS devices). A good rule of thumb is that you may have a noise problem if workers have to shout to communicate with each other.

When noise exposure equals or exceeds the action level of 85 dBA, employees must be enrolled in a Hearing Conservation Program to protect their hearing. Elements of a Hearing Conservation Program include audiometric testing, training, and hearing protection. Audiometric testing establishes a worker’s baseline hearing level, which is compared to annual rechecks to catch potential hearing loss as early as possible. Training must also be conducted annually, with an emphasis on the effects of noise exposure on hearing and the importance of hearing protectors. The cost of annual audiograms, annual training, and hearing protective devices should always be considered when determining the economic feasibility of engineering controls. Noise control engineering will often be cheaper in the long run than a Hearing Conservation Program.

Exposure to loud noise does not just damage your hearing; it can have a detrimental effect on overall quality of life. Noise-induced hearing loss can lead to social isolation and depression. Stress from noise exposure can raise blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke. Acoustic and noise insulation can improve your workers’ overall well being. In addition to making your workplace safer and more productive, controlling noise exposure can make your employees healthier and happier. Noise insulation is a win-win for employers and employees.

The control of noise can be a significant requirement for many new and existing projects in the built environment. For new projects, effective low-noise design can include solutions such as buying quiet machinery or utilizing quiet technologies. However, for existing facilities or buildings, this design strategy is not affordable or practicable, making it necessary to find other noise control solutions.

Noise Control

Noise control comprises three basic methods that disrupt the noise source, transmission path, or receiver. The most effective solution is to remove the noise source: No noise, no problem. Noisy equipment should be designed out of a project, or the noisiest components should be replaced with quieter equivalents. Solutions could include changing operating conditions (e.g., rotational speeds); modifying the design; or installing quieter equipment, machinery, or components. However, such solutions can be expensive or difficult to implement.

The next best solution is to disrupt the sound transmission path. Ideally, a physical barrier to stop the noise travelling from the source to the receiver should be used. Depending on the situation or equipment, solutions could include an actual barrier, fence, or wall; machinery enclosure; duct silencer; or pipe insulation system.

The last resort should be to protect the noise receiver. This type of protection often takes the form of earmuffs or earplugs for individual persons, double or triple glazing for residential properties, or noise havens, which are quiet spaces located in noisy plant or factory areas. However, these solutions impede the activity of the person(s) being protected. Double or triple glazing used to reduce the noise at a property also reduces the amenity of the property. Similarly, ear defender protection is only as effective as claimed when based on the average person. Noise havens offer a quiet space in a noisy work environment but do not protect the worker from the noise hazard in the plant. Up to one third of the workforce is not as effectively protected as they should be. Further, personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to protect workers from a hazard. Employees are still exposed to the hazard, but the likelihood of harm—the risk—is reduced by wearing PPE. If the PPE fails, however, no protection is provided and safety is compromised; whereas if the hazard is removed, the danger is removed.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the reduction of the transmission path, as it is most affected by insulation materials.

Controlling noise can depend on many elements, such as cost, practicability, maintenance, and effectiveness. The primary consideration should be to determine the cause, but noise sources are not always obvious, particularly if you have a lot of noisy equipment in one area. Best practice should be to conduct a detailed noise assessment/survey of the area and problem. Specialists should undertake assessments to ensure a correct, detailed summary of the situation. General sound assessments can focus attention on noise sources. Detailed assessments of individual noise sources using sound pressure, sound intensity, and/or vibration velocity techniques provide a detailed picture of the problem. Such understanding leads to effective solutions.

The Transmission Path

Noise is unwanted sound. Sound is generated by structural vibrations (rotating equipment, pipework, etc.) or aerodynamic flow (exhausts, vents, etc.) and propagates as a quickly varying pressure wave travelling through the surrounding medium (gas, liquid, or solid). Understanding how to control this propagation can be defined by the type of sound generation and its medium and characteristics (e.g., sound level and frequencies).

Sound can travel in air either as an airborne pressure wave (airborne sound) or via a structural vibration—a pressure wave in a solid structure—that then re-radiates the sound into the air (structure-borne sound) (see Figure 1). What we hear is often a combination of both methods of travel. The key is to determine which is the most dominant path and, subsequently, which control method to use.

For airborne sound propagation, we need to either absorb or block the sound. Therefore, sound absorption and acoustic barriers are most effective. For structure-borne sound, we need to either de-couple/isolate the vibration source from the solid structure or dampen the structure to reduce its vibrational energy.

Airborne Noise Control

Sound Absorption

Sound absorption is key when looking to reduce the sound level in an enclosed space. In a free-field environment, sound will continue to propagate away from the sound source, dissipating with distance following the inverse square law. In an enclosed space, such as a room, sound will propagate away from the sound source until it meets a barrier or wall. Sound will then pass through the barrier, be absorbed by the barrier, or reflect back from the barrier. To reduce the reverberant sound level in a room or enclosure, the amount of sound reflected into that space can be reduced using sound absorption materials on the internal walls. Sound absorption materials within the wall construction can help absorb sound passing through the wall.

Applying sound-absorbing materials to a wall of an enclosed space helps control the sound level inside the space. The amount of absorption required depends on the use of the enclosed space—e.g., for speech intelligibility in schools, or for concert spaces or movie theaters. Additionally, reducing the reverberant sound levels in a machinery enclosure or workshop can help to reduce occupational noise exposure.

Sound absorption materials are also a key part of reducing internal HVAC airborne sound transmission through ducts and within pipework acoustic insulation.

Within acoustic design, sound absorbers are classified as one of the following: (a) porous materials, (b) non-porous panel absorbers, or (c) cavity resonators.

Porous Materials

Porous materials are those most readily analogous to insulation materials. They are open cell in nature and often, though not exclusively, fibrous in design (e.g., open cell flexible elastomeric foams [FEF]). Such materials are characterized by a network of interconnected pores, creating small channels and cavities. As acoustic energy passes through these complex channels, the material creates viscous losses through conversion of the acoustic energy as heat. The absorption of acoustic energy is dependent on the frequency of the sound passing through the material. There is low absorption at low frequencies, with absorption increasing as the material thickness increases relative to the wavelength of the sound. As frequency increases, wavelength decreases, and the thickness of the porous material becomes more effective. The thicker the porous material, the greater the degree of absorption across a wider range of frequencies. (See Figure 2.)

When selecting the sound-absorbing porous material, it is key to understand the frequencies of sound that most need to be reduced, and then select a material and thickness that will best provide such a reduction.

Determining the acoustic absorption of a porous material requires testing in a specialized laboratory to ASTM C423-22/ISO354. ASTM C423-22 also identifies an overall Sound Absorption Average (SAA) for quick reference. This value is an average of the material absorption coefficients in one-third octave bands between 200Hz and 2500Hz.

Non-Porous Panels

Typically mounted away from a solid backing, non-porous panels such as gypsum, metal sheet, or plywood behave differently from porous materials. Sound incident upon non porous panels causes the panel to vibrate. The dissipative mechanisms within the panels’ material properties convert the acoustic energy into heat. Note that the addition of a porous material behind a non-porous panel can help to increase the lower frequency absorption.

Cavity Resonators

A cavity resonator is a non-porous panel located away from a solid backing, but with a narrow opening. The opening provides a connection between the volume of air behind the panel and the larger space/room/enclosure. This mechanism creates a “Helmholtz Resonator” that absorbs acoustic energy, but only for a narrow band of frequencies near its resonance. It is possible to broaden these frequencies by increasing the number of openings—with a perforated panel—and using porous materials between the panel and the solid backing.

When trying to control the sound inside an enclosed room or space, any (or a combination) of the above systems can be effective. It is, however, necessary to ensure the source sound characteristics are known to select the correct system.


Barriers prevent sound passing through them. They can be walls or fences, but a building/enclosure surrounding a noise source, a machinery/valve jacket, or a pipe or duct insulation covering also function as barriers. A barrier blocks sound from getting from a sound source to a receiver. The noise source remains, the receiver is still there, but the sound transmission path is blocked. The basic performance of a barrier (transmission loss) for airborne sound involves reflection, absorption, and transmission (see Figure 3).

The acoustic transmission loss performance of a barrier depends on many factors. For simplicity, consider a basic incidence-absorption-transmission scenario. The ability of the barrier to impede the sound is defined by its physical material characteristics—e.g., thickness, density, mass, stiffness, and damping. Figure 4 shows the behavior of transmission loss for a single, homogeneous material (a) and a composite, multi-material sandwich construction (b).

Each barrier has a resonance. Below that resonance, stiffness controls transmission loss. At the resonance frequency, sound is transmitted through the barrier without much reflection or absorption. Around twice the lowest resonance frequency, the mass of the partition dominates the sound reduction. Transmission loss increases by 6 dB per doubling of mass. Mass increase means the panel vibrates less in response to incident sound waves. Consequently, less sound energy radiates on the other side.

However, mass is not the only factor to consider in a barriers’ acoustic transmission loss.

Table 1 (below) shows six different mass loaded vinyl (MLV) products from six different manufacturers. All have the same mass and produce similar sound transmission class (STC), but the actual performance can vary. When selecting an MLV, or any barrier, matching the barrier to the noise source characteristics (e.g., frequency) ensures the most effective solution.

At higher frequencies, there is a coincidence region where bending waves occur through the barrier. As the bending wave’s velocity increases with frequency, the wavelength of the bending wave differs from the incident sound wave that created it, except where the bending wave speed in the material equals the speed of sound in the air. Here, all the waves coincide and reinforce each other, in phase. This reduces the sound reduction performance of the panel around this frequency. Every material has a coincidence frequency where the transmission loss reduces considerably. For more complex barriers made of several materials (a sandwich panel), the coincidence region is often wider than for a single homogeneous material.

Generally, the best acoustic barriers tend to be high-mass, limp, highly damped materials with a high weight-to-stiffness ratio.

Structure-Borne Noise Control


At its most basic, anything that vibrates can produce sound waves. Depending on the material and the size of the vibrating object, the amount of sound generated differs. Exciting a tuning fork, causing it to vibrate, and holding it in the air, it is audible but quiet. However, placing the base of the fork on a desktop, for example, causes the loudness to increase significantly. The tuning fork is vibration—coupled with the desktop, it forces the desk to re-radiate the excitation vibration of the fork as sound. Because the desk has a larger surface area, the loudness increases. This process of vibration coupling is important when considering industrial equipment such as rotating machinery on a metal skid or an HVAC air handling unit (AHU) connected to HVAC ducting. Treating the item of equipment alone is insufficient. Isolating the equipment from connected structures can be equally, if not more, important.

Similarly, a washing machine on spin cycle can couple with a building structure and cause other structures in the building (walls, floors, ceilings, etc.) to vibrate and re-radiate the sound of the washing machine. This causes issues of disturbance in other parts of the building and is extremely hard to treat without reducing the noise at source.

The most effective way to control these situations is to “vibration isolate” the excitation source from its surrounding structure. Various techniques achieve this, usually through rubber mounts or spring connections.

Selection of the correct anti-vibration mount(s) should be undertaken by an expert or supplier, as selection of the correct system and materials must allow for the operation of the machinery, frequencies, weight, balance, etc.

A good example of a vibration isolation system would be one for the AHU for an HVAC system. The AHU has a rubber-type collar separating the unit from the ductwork. This type of connection reduces or removes the machinery vibration of the AHU coupling to the duct work. The duct work is thin steel, with a high surface area. It would very easily re-radiate the AHU machinery noise throughout the building. Note that the noise from HVAC systems is primarily, though not always, generated by the fan as airborne sound that travels through the duct. Consequently, acoustic absorbing insulation materials are used as a possible solution. These would not work if the sound propagation path was mechanical vibration of the duct itself.

Process pipework acoustic insulation systems reduce the sound emitted from the pipe surface. If the pipe is physically attached to a steel pipe rack, the pipe wall vibration is coupled directly to the pipe rack. The pipe rack is often steel and easily re-radiates the pipe noise. When treating pipework noise, it is important to not only insulate the pipe with suitable acoustic insulation but also to vibration isolate the pipe from the supporting structure.

For a vibrating sound source, isolate it from its supporting structure if that structure is likely to re-radiate the noise.


If isolation is not possible, it becomes necessary to try to reduce the amount of vibration energy in a coupled structure using damping. A damping material reduces the vibration of a surface, minimizing transmitted vibration and, thus, radiated noise by damping out structural bending waves. Damping materials reduce the kinetic energy present in a system by transformation into thermal energy. The degree to which a material can provide damping is presented as the loss factor. The loss factor (η or Tan δ) of a material is the ratio of a material loss modulus and the storage modulus, and it varies with frequency and temperature. The highest loss factor and, therefore, damping occurs within the glass transition region of a material (see Figure 5). Selecting the correct damping material, aside from the damping system used, should be a function of the operating temperature and frequency.

For non-porous material panels, damping is an important parameter, especially below first resonance and above the coincidence frequency. However, for porous insulation materials, damping is a key factor in reducing the thickness of pipework acoustic insulation systems. Within aerogel blankets, the embedded aerogel within the blanket damps the blanket fibers, which has a dual effect. First, the sound wave passing through the damped blanket must work harder as the energy is better dissipated by the blanket fibers. Additionally, the porous material acts as a spring in a mass spring system. As a damped mass spring is more effective at reducing the vibration energy, so a damped porous material is better at removing vibrational energy from the system. This is particularly important in pipework insulation systems, and it is one of the reasons why an aerogel acoustic pipe insulation system can be much thinner than a standard mineral wool acoustic system. In FEF-based acoustic insulation systems, the closed cell FEF acts as a spring to reduce vibration transmission. The addition of an open cell FEF acoustic material acts as a damped airborne acoustic absorber, and the elastic barrier materials function as a mass barrier. For metal clad systems, the use of a viscoelastic barrier can be even more efficient than an elastic mass barrier. This is due to the higher loss factor (damping) of the viscoelastic barrier, which reduces the ability of the metal cladding to radiate sound.

Which Noise Control Method to Use?

Example: Machinery Enclosures

Where there is a high noise generating item of equipment, e.g., a pump package, it can be possible to enclose the package. The best practice solution for an enclosure could be considered a steel enclosure with MLV on the inside of the box; a porous, sound-absorbing material such as open cell FEF or mineral wool inside that; a thin (25 micron) polyurethane sheet to reduce moisture/chemical ingress; and a perforated metal sheet. This type of design provides both sound absorption inside the enclosure—reducing the reverberant sound energy—and a physical, damped barrier.

The choice of material thickness depends on the sound source characteristics/frequencies and the level of reduction required. For example, if a 2” sound absorption material is required, selecting the open cell FEF option is likely to add more mass and damping to the enclosure system than may be achieved with mineral wool. Using the FEF would therefore improve the barrier transmission loss. If this additional reduction were not required, the use of mineral wool could be suitable.

Additionally, care should be taken to avoid any physical connections from the noisy equipment in the enclosure to the enclosure itself. This could allow structure-borne noise transmission.

Example: Pipework Acoustic Insulation

Effective pipework insulation must incorporate all the above noise control elements. The vibrating pipe wall radiates airborne sound. When attaching an insulation system to the pipe, the pipe wall vibration can be transmitted to the insulation cladding and
re-radiated by the cladding as airborne sound. Acoustic insulation must reduce both airborne and structure-borne contributions.

The porous layers provide acoustic absorption and structure-borne vibration isolation between the pipe wall and cladding system. The cladding system requires sufficient mass and suitable low stiffness to function as an airborne acoustic barrier, with enough damping to reduce re-radiation from the external cladding material.

Additionally, care should be taken to use anti-vibration mounts to support the pipe on the pipe support structure to avoid structure-borne noise.


The use of insulation materials to reduce noise is highly dependent on the nature of the noise source, the path the noise takes to get from the source to the receiver, and the amount of noise reduction needed. Proper assessment of the nature of the noise problem should be sought to ensure the correct control methods are selected. To reduce airborne noise, the use of suitable sound-absorbing and/or barrier materials is required. For structure-borne noise control, the use of vibration isolation or structural damping is required.

Richard Pamley, BSc, MSc, CEng, is the Global Acoustics Manager for Armacell Energy. Pamley has more than 25 years’ experience in sound and vibration, working as an International Consultant Engineer in the energy sector and as a Senior Scientist in vibro-acoustic material research. He has a bachelor’s degree in Physics with Acoustics from University of Surrey (UK), a master’s degree
in Sound and Vibration Studies from the Institute of Sound
and Vibration Research, University of Southampton (UK),
is a Chartered Engineer, and is a Member of the Institute
of Acoustics.