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Sound Pollution

Sound Pollution Poses a Serious Threat to Many South Africans

The gradual transition from a pastoral society to an industrial one has resulted in many improvements in the way we live. Today, through the convenience of air travel, we can fly between any of the nation’s major cities within an hour or two, and be anywhere in the world within the space of a day. We no longer have to face long walks to local destinations, or carry heavy shopping bags by hand, thanks to the ubiquitous motor car. For those who may not own a vehicle of their own, public transport offers the option of taxis, busses and trains. In the nation’s factories, the days of labour-intensive manufacturing have long been replaced by automated machinery that requires minimal input from its human attendants. Even our entertainment is now delivered directly to our eyes and ears through the modern miracles of television, radio and the internet. This seemingly utopian lifestyle, however, also has its downside – it’s plagued by noise! Sound is now just as responsible for the pollution of our environment as the mountains of cooldrink bottles, beer cans and plastic food containers that occupy our landfills, and the clouds of toxic fumes that belch, night and day, from the exhausts of our beloved family saloons and bakkies.

However, more alarming, is the fact that so few appear to be aware of the seriousness of this threat. Although the dangers of domestic and industrial waste and exhaust fumes are widely recognised, and measures to reduce them through recycling and the development of more eco-friendly alternatives are rapidly becoming a priority in most developed countries, the danger inherent in exposure to loud noises continues to receive far less attention. As a result, the vast majority of its potential victims still remain blissfully unaware of the insidious long-term effects of repeated exposure to excessive levels of noise.

The most obvious effect of exposure to sound pollution is one that most of us will have experienced on more than one occasion. Anyone positioned too close to a loud backfire, a gunshot or a particularly powerful firecracker will almost certainly have been left with the annoying sensation of ringing in the ears that doctors refer to as tinnitus. The phantom ringing is the result of damage to the delicate hair cells lining the cochlea (a sensory organ located in the innermost compartment of the ear) and is accompanied by muffled hearing. Fortunately, both symptoms are normally temporary, and normal hearing is restored within a day or two.

Where such exposure is repeated and may be continued for long periods of time, the consequences are far more serious, and can be life-changing. The incidence of noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL has been increasing steadily, and it is now the most common form of auditory impairment worldwide, and one of the earliest clues to the condition will often be persistent, rather than temporary tinnitus.

In fact, NIHL is now the most common form of industrial injury, and results in claims for compensation amounting to billions each year. While attempts to reduce the level of sound pollution in the workplace may not always be practical, legislation now requires employers to adopt effective measures to limit the exposure of workers to excessive levels of noise, in order to protect them from hearing loss. It is a measure that has benefits both for employees and employers alike. While protecting the former from severe auditory impairment that could have life-changing consequences, it also safeguards the latter against reduced workplace efficiency and costly claims for industrial compensation.

Elsewhere, legislation to regulate noise is aimed at reducing that generated by jet aircraft during take-off and landing, and by inadequately muffled vehicle exhaust systems, through the imposition of penalties and fines. Despite this, the inhabitants of most urban areas continue to be threatened by sound pollution, due to heavy traffic and construction works. In big cities and quiet rural villages alike, portable music players operating at full volume are increasingly cited as the cause of noise-induced hearing loss, a condition that is now even taking its toll amongst children still in their pre-teen years.

While for members of the general public, simple ear plugs and self-discipline may be the only prophylaxis required, in industry, the need is for a more specialised approach. Rather than over-the-counter products, workers at risk of NIHL require earplugs that are moulded precisely to the contours of their ears, yet permit communication. Our Noise-Ban products provide the perfect solution.

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