NIHL or Noise-induced hearing loss is a common cause of workers compensation claims in WA.
Our mobile hearing and lung function testing facility travels around Perth and regional WA to help you manage the risk of noise exposure in your workplace and prevent NIHL in your workers.
What is NIHL?
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is an irreversible condition that can have a significant impact on a worker’s life.
The majority of work-related hearing loss injuries occur over an extended period of time, sometimes many years, as a result of exposure to industrial or occupational noise. We refer to this type of hearing loss as a gradual onset injury. This type of hearing loss can present during employment, or not be identified by the worker until many years after exposure.
NIHL is caused by prolonged exposure to noise or single instances of extreme noise. It can lead to sudden or gradual sensorineural hearing loss, as a result of damage to the sensory cells. NIHL is commonly associated with occupational-related noise in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction and mining.
Characteristics of NIHL
According to the Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA) the principle characteristics of Occupational NIHL are that:
Workers compensation for NIHL
Safe Work Australia state that each year there are an average of 3,400 successful workers’ compensation claims for ONIHL in Australia. The nature of hearing loss is that it has a long latency, and there is often difficulty determining whether a loss is work related. Therefore Safe Work Australia believes that these figures are probably understated.
High risk industries for NIHL
Hearing loss or NIHL due to occupation is one of the biggest problems facing mining companies – it is the second most common injury reported in the industry. This should come as no surprise to those in the industry as the work site is often a loud environment.
Analysis of workers’ compensation claims for hearing loss indicate that three occupational groups (labourers and related workers; tradespersons and related workers; and intermediate production and transport workers) account for 88 per cent of claims. The three highest industry sectors affected by occupational hearing loss are the manufacturing, construction, transport and storage industries. The highest incidence rates were in mining; construction; and electricity, gas and water supply.
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.
NIHL in Mining
In mining, 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 (via a Noise Survey) and employees should be notified 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. Audiometric testing should also be considered and arranged for by the employer. See WorkCover requirements for baseline and subsequent audiometric testing.
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.
This informtion is all measured, reviewed and discussed in our comprehensive Noise Surveys reports.