Noise-induced hearing loss now highest priority mining health condition, Indaba hears

6th February 2024 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Noise-induced hearing loss now highest priority mining health condition, Indaba hears

From left Minerals Council South Africa’s Sietse van der Woude, Dr Thuthula Balfour, Japie Fullard, Mzila Mthenjane and Dushendra Naidoo.

CAPE TOWN ( – Noise-induced hearing loss has displaced tuberculosis (TB) and silicosis as the top priority health threat in the South African mining industry.

“I’m emphasising noise-induced hearing loss because the other diseases have gone down markedly whereas noise-induced hearing loss has not gone down as much,” Minerals Council South Africa health department head Dr Thuthula Balfour revealed on day two of the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

The lowest number of occupational diseases reported to date was 1 924 in 2021.

The 15 years from 2008 to 2021 saw a massive upwards-of-75% decrease in occupational diseases, with the biggest fall being in TB and silicosis and a lesser fall in noise-induced hearing loss, Balfour told a Minerals Council media briefing in which CEO Mzila Mthenjane, Japie Fullard, Dushendra Naidoo and Sietse van der Woude participated.

While noise-induced hearing loss has overtaken TB and silicosis, it must be remembered that coal workers are exposed to lung disease from coal dust, Balfour pointed out at the media briefing covered by Mining Weekly.

Of concern are the significant numbers of mine employees who continue to be exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels and key interventions to eliminate noise at the source are under way.

Balfour urged that companies desist from supplying equipment with excessive noise levels as the earmuffs meant to be worn to shield employees from loud sound tended to not be worn efficiently, especially during high-humidity and high-temperature conditions.

The elimination of excessive noise is being driven very aggressively “and we are finding a lot of progress”, Balfour disclosed.

Being targeted in particular are noisy rockdrills held close to the ear and through partnership, drills that emit far less noise are emerging.

Coincidentally, the less noisy rockdrills on offer are also considerably lighter in weight, which has opened the way for women to become rockdrill operators.