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Noise-induced hearing loss; Causes and Prevention

noise induced hearing loss worker earplugs
Noise induced hearing loss is a significant hazard in the Australian mining industry

Hearing loss due to occupation is one of the biggest problems facing miners with it being the second most common injury reported in the industry. This should come as no surprise to those in the industry as the worksite is a loud environment.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss affects mine workers worldwide. According to Hearing Loss in Australia – a report from Australian Hearing – “The most significant cause of hearing loss in Australia is exposure to loud noise. 37 per cent of heading loss is due to excessive noise exposure.”

The personal cost of hearing loss, which can result in depression from being unable to communicate with friends and family, feelings of isolation, stress, accidents, reduced productivity and fatigue, also has dire economic consequences.

In the mining industry, hearing loss presents a number of risks, from being unable to communicate with other workers to the inability to hear machines or alarms. Most of us hear sounds in the 20 to 20,000 Hertz (Hz) range; individuals suffering from NIHL will initially have difficulty hearing in the 4,000 to 6,000 Hz range, where higher-pitched sounds, such as the voices of children, are hard to hear and understand.

The causes include the noise generated from pneumatic percussion drills, screens, crushers, ventilation fans and blowers, cutting heads, conveyor systems, shovels, engines, blasting, surface drilling rigs, and more. Even after hearing loss has affected a miner, steps must be taken to prevent further damage. Noise levels should be measured by a competent, professional service and employees should be notified (using a noise map) to let them know which areas are most hazardous and what protective equipment should be worn. Additionally, the exposure to noise should be noted in personnel files.

Engineering controls can be placed at the source of noise, for instance: barriers, vibration dampeners, mufflers, and absorptive panels. Equipment and machinery should be well maintained and when purchasing new products enhanced noise control should be considered. Where possible, the source of noise should be isolated (or blocked).

Rotating employees is also an effective measure. Limit exposure to those noisy areas with regular job rotation. Additionally, employees should have the proper safety training and know what protective equipment to wear in each area of the worksite.

Has your hearing been affected by your work in the mining industry? Tell us how in the comment section.

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AMSJ April 2022