Block out the noise with quality hearing protection
Roughly one million South Africans live with a hearing difficulty. As the world becomes a noisier place, it is increasingly important for noisy industries, like mining and manufacturing, to invest in quality hearing protection. MARISKA MORRIS reports
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 360-million people, globally, have a disabling hearing loss. This is often caused by either an intense impulse sound, such as an explosion, or continuous exposure to loud sounds, such as noises generated in a mine or a factory.
A 2011 census found that around one million South Africans have mild to moderate hearing difficulties, while 288 369 people suffer from severe hearing loss. This number threatens to increase as the world becomes a noisier place.
Pieta van Deventer, director of HASS Industrial, which manufactures hearing protection, says: “A normal conversation will result in a sound level of around 60 decibels (dB). Sustained exposure to sound levels of 85 dB or higher is sufficient to permanently damage the ears. Given that the average hairdryer operates at around 100 dB and a petrol-driven lawnmower slightly higher, most of us are actually at risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss.”
“The louder the sound, the shorter the time period before noise-induced hearing loss can occur,” he adds. Workers in the construction, mining and manufacturing industry are especially vulnerable to hearing loss as they work alongside noisy machinery. Various industries have regulations to help prevent hearing loss.
The Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) limits the noise exposure in mines to no more than 85 dB. It also states that the hearing of employees, who are exposed to these noises, should not deteriorate by more than ten percent.
Equipment also can’t exceed a sound pressure level of 110 dB. These regulations are not enough, however. The best way to prevent hearing loss is to use quality hearing protection.
Among the various types of hearing protection available, Van Deventer believes custom-made earplugs perform best. These are specifically manufactured according to the user’s ear canal. He notes: “An impression of the ear is taken and an ear-plug is manufactured to fully seal that particular ear canal.”
This prevents loud noises from filtering into the ear. Some custom ear-plugs regulate the sound level according to the noise in the environment with the use of a filter.
However, Van Deventer cautions: “While custom-made hearing protection can offer the best protection against noise-induced hearing loss, its optimum performance depends on the correct fitting and regular functional checks.”
Employees working in a noisy environment should also go for frequent hearing tests. They can take a free hearing test on the HearScreen app developed by hearZA.
The app is free to download and use with a two-minute, game-style test that requires a smartphone and headphones. The results are captured and shared with hearing-loss experts. Employees who fail a hearing test should make an appointment with a certified professional.