Ear Protection in the Mining Industry

Tailored Ear Protection to Combat NIHL in the Mining Industry

  Some of the most alarming statistics of the 21st century are those relating to the steady increase in the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL. This condition was once relatively uncommon outside of the workplace, but urban living, with its constant cacophony of traffic and construction noise, combined with a modern lifestyle in which rock concerts, discotheques and mobile music players abound, has led to a gradual expansion of the previous demographic to include people of all ages and from all walks of life. Legislation to protect the general public from such excesses is slow in materialising, but the provision of ear protection by employers for those required to work in environments where noise levels consistently exceed 85 decibels is now a well-established legal requirement in South Africa.

One of the industries in which the risk of noise-induced hearing loss is particularly high is the nation’s mining sector. Underground workers are required to labour for long periods under cramped conditions, in which the already dangerously high levels of noise generated by their drilling equipment are further amplified by their confined surroundings. Without a suitably effective means with which to limit their exposure, miners working a single shift can result in a measurable degree of permanent hearing loss.

The World Health Organisation has confirmed that NIHL is now the most common occupational illness worldwide, despite the fact that the condition is preventable when workers are supplied with a suitable and effective form of ear protection. Historically, miners have dominated the field among those affected, with more than half of them incapacitated by deafness before the age of 50. However, it is not just the workers, who have been affected. Over the years, the industry worldwide has been required to pay billions in compensation to hearing-impaired workers, and this has done little to improve profits.

Obviously, then, it is in the interest of mining companies to comply with government legislation regarding the prevention of NIHL. However, to ensure compliance, these companies must also ensure that the preventative methods adopted are sufficiently effective. One of the difficulties with noise-induced hearing loss is that, unlike other occupational illnesses, there are no visible symptoms, and only after a relatively long period of progressive deterioration do those affected become conscious of their condition. In addition to ear protection, therefore, it is also necessary to examine workers periodically for evidence of auditory impairment.

Devices designed to cover the ears and plugs that fit into them are the most common means employed to combat NIHL. While the former are rather limited and generally unsuitable where noise levels are particularly high, the efficiency of plugs varies according to their composition and the extent to which they actually occlude the entry of sound waves into the subject’s ears. In order to ensure the maximum degree of protection, each plug should be moulded to fit each of a given individual’s ears precisely and comfortably. At the same time, the material used should allow sufficient passage of sound to permit essential communication with shift bosses and fellow workers.

While an off-the-shelf product may well prove to be the perfect solution for an insomniac, for the effective prevention of NIHL, a more precise fit is required. Impressions of the left and right aural contours of each employee at risk must first be taken in much the same way as a dentist creates the impressions for dental prostheses. From these, a mould will then be prepared from which to fashion the precisely-fitting plugs that are essential to ensuring the necessary level of ear protection.

Customising the protective plugs not only makes them more efficient, but also offers certain other benefits. In particular, it ensures that they are comfortable, which means that they are more acceptable to the wearer, especially in situations such as mining where they must be worn for prolonged periods.

Noise-Ban™ is a product dedicated to hearing healthcare. Focussing on the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss for the past 25 years, H.A.S.S. Industrial (Pty) Ltd is the first company in South Africa to manufacture custom-made plugs for this purpose, a major component of its comprehensive hearing conservation management programme.

Noise-Ban tailored products are characterised by quality and durability, and are individually leak-tested in situ, thus providing South Africa’s mining and other heavy industries with the ideal solution for optimal ear protection.

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