Mining Publication: Hearing Loss in the Mining Industry: The Evolution of NIOSH and Bureau of Mines Hearing Loss Research
Noise is one of the greatest hazards to a miner’s health, rivaled only by respirable dust and repetitive trauma. Hazardous noise exposures are more prevalent in mining than in any other major U.S. industrial sector, and, as a consequence, miners report more hearing problems than any other type of worker. NIOSH has made the reduction of noise-induced hearing loss a major strategic goal and is attacking the problem through improved noise controls and interventions for workers. The NIOSH strategy expands on decades of research by its U.S. Bureau of Mines predecessors that identified some of the key issues with underground and surface noise sources. The current NIOSH program expanded significantly in 2000 in response to stakeholder interest and to provide a research complement to the regulatory initiative embodied in the Health Standards for Occupational Noise Exposure published by the Mine Safety and Health Administration in that year. Since then, NIOSH has developed significant new technologies for reducing noise from continuous mining machines and roof bolting machines, which have been the main sources of noise overexposures for underground coal miners. Field studies have shown that NIOSH-developed noise controls reduce workers’ noise exposures below the MSHA Permissible Exposure Level (PEL). The facilities and engineering techniques developed for the underground coal efforts are now being applied to underground metal mining, processing plants, and other mining sectors. NIOSH has also addressed the worker’s role in prevention by developing the Hearing Loss Simulator, QuickFit earplug tester, and other tools workers and trainers can use to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. These worker-empowerment technologies motivate and involve miners to implement noise controls, participate in administrative exposure management, and use hearing protection effectively. As it enters its second decade of mining noise and hearing loss prevention research, NIOSH has started to evaluate the impact each of its noise controls and other interventions have had on the hearing loss problem. In addition, NIOSH will direct its resources in partnership with industry stakeholders to address every mining sector within the next ten years.