In a significant move to address public concerns about noise pollution, the Ministry of Environment has finally released comprehensive guidelines outlining safe sound levels for different locations and times of the day.
Unlike previous regulations that only required noise-emitting establishments to implement soundproofing measures, the new guidelines establish clear decibel thresholds for public spaces, churches, hospitals, schools, and other areas.
The guidelines, unveiled on Wednesday, July 12, are applicable to various activities such as businesses, hotels, restaurants, advertisers using loudspeakers, construction sites, factories, and churches. Anyone found in violation of these guidelines will face penalties.
The Environment Minister, Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, said that the guidelines were developed in response to the growing concern about noise pollution and its impact on the lives of Rwandan residents.
The new guidelines define noise as sound levels that exceed specific decibel (dB) limits set for particular locations and times of the day. Decibel levels are measured using sound level meters.
Daytime is designated as the period from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., while nighttime spans from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Quiet zones, defined as areas located 100 meters from health facilities, schools, libraries, court houses, and public offices, have their own noise restrictions.
Sound Levels, Zones, and Hours
In residential areas, the sound level should not exceed 55 dB during daytime and 45 dB during nighttime. In commercial areas, the sound level should not exceed 65 dB during daytime and 55 dB during nighttime.
In industrial areas, the sound level should not exceed 75 dB during daytime and 70 dB during nighttime.
In quiet zones, which include areas near health facilities, schools, libraries, court houses, and public offices, the sound level should not exceed 50 dB during daytime and 40 dB during nighttime.
“Quiet zones must be identified and marked with signs in collaboration with relevant authorities,” states the documents signed by Minister Mujawariya. “No advertisement using loudspeakers, vehicle horns, or any other noise is allowed in a quiet zone.”
Religious buildings, entertainment venues, bars, and restaurants may have sound levels ranging from 88 dB to 91 dB.
Sound Levels Inside and Outside Buildings
The guidelines also provide clarification on permissible sound levels inside and outside buildings, as well as the duration of exposure.
For example, if the sound level inside a church or mosque reaches 85 dB, individuals can remain inside for up to eight hours. If the sound level increases to 88 dB, the recommended maximum duration decreases to four hours.
In entertainment buildings or nightclubs, a sound level of 85 dB permits individuals to spend up to eight hours inside. However, if the sound level reaches 88 dB, the recommended maximum duration is reduced to four hours. If the sound level exceeds 91 dB, the recommended maximum duration further decreases to two hours.
Similarly, in bars or restaurants, a sound level of 85 dB allows for up to eight hours of stay, while 88 dB reduces the recommended duration to four hours.
The sound level outside any of these establishments should not exceed the ambient sound level of the surrounding area.
“No one is allowed to remain in an area with continuous noise exceeding 70 dB throughout the day,” the Minister emphasized.
“No activity should subject an individual to noise levels exceeding 85 dB for more than eight hours.”
Individuals exceeding the recommended time limits should follow the measures outlined in the accompanying table. Additionally, the owners of noise-emitting activities must provide training on noise control to their employees and conduct annual hearing tests to ensure their employees’ hearing capacity remains unaffected.
For construction activities that may generate noise exceeding the defined thresholds, operators must obtain special permission before commencing such activities, which will be issued alongside the construction permit.