Mining Publication: Reducing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Longwall Coal Mine Workers: NIOSH's Approach
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting research with the objective of preventing hearing loss in the mining industry. Longwall mining is one sector that has received considerable attention. Studies involving the monitoring of worker noise exposures, characterizing equipment sound levels and dominant noise sources, evaluating engineering noise controls, analyzing hearing protection device (HPD) effectiveness, and testing of improved sound level monitoring techniques specifically for longwall mining systems, are being conducted. The research efforts revealed that stageloader operators are the most exposed longwall workers, with the discharge end being the noisiest location along the stageloader. In addition, the studies have shown that using stationary dosimeters, coupled with observational data of the cutting cycle and worker habits, has the potential for improved monitoring of the effectiveness of engineering noise controls. To address the ineffective use of soft foam earplugs, a simplified 3-step method was developed for inserting soft foam earplugs. Results indicate a 9 dB greater attenuation after training subjects on the 3-step method. Finally, muff type HPDs are being evaluated for effects of speech intelligibility in noise. The combined results of these studies illustrates that much can and has been done to prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in the mining industry, especially with respect to longwall mining workers. This paper presents an overview of ongoing studies, a progress report of results, and the implications for reducing worker noise exposures and preventing NIHL in longwall mining workers.