Mining Project: Increasing the Effectiveness of Targeted Mining Hearing Conservation Program Elements

Principal Investigator
Start Date 10/1/2017

To identify and remediate actual and perceived barriers to full implementation of hearing conservation programs at surface stone, sand, and gravel mines.

Topic Area

Research Summary

Hearing Conservation programs (HCP) are required at worksites where the workers have noise exposures exceeding the action levels set by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). HCPs are a culmination of comprehensive, coordinated efforts to determine the noise exposure of workers on the job, followed by specific steps to lessen that noise exposure. This, in turn, will lessen the worker’s chance of incurring an occupational hearing loss. Aside from regulatory requirements, conscientious employers often wish to protect their workers from noise and potential occupational hearing loss as part of a concern for their overall health.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), there are seven primary basic components to an effective hearing conservation program: noise exposure monitoring, engineering and administrative controls, audiometric evaluation, use of hearing protection devices (HPDs), education and motivation, record keeping, and program evaluation. Focus must be placed on each of these components to achieve the desired goal of reducing the incidence of occupational hearing loss. Many companies implement their HCPs with good intentions and have fair emphasis on most of the components. However, lack of expertise or funding may leave some HCP components under-performing. A process of objective data analysis and subjective interviewing is needed to identify the underlying issues to full, effective implementation of HCPs and in turn to provide solutions to improve those areas. It is necessary to know the status of the noise within the working environment, as well as the attitudes, perceptions, opinions and/or past experiences of those working within the environment to enact and support modifications to an existing hearing conservation program. Although the programs are required, it is expected that shortcomings will be found, which, if addressed, would improve the overall success of the program.

To address this need, this project includes four research aims that will be carried out as described below.

  1. To characterize the spatial distribution of sound levels at surface stone, sand, and gravel mining facilities. Sound contour maps will be developed allowing workers and researchers to more fully understand the noise hazards and relevant noise-generating machinery and/or operations.
  2. To characterize the relationship between noise exposure and hearing loss, and to evaluate hearing loss risk among miners at surface facilities. A noise exposure hearing loss characterization will result, indicating the degree of effectiveness of current audiometric testing and potential improvements to maximize investment and returns of required audiometry as part of an HCP.
  3. To identify barriers in implementation and needs for improving or overcoming those barriers. This will result in a barrier matrix, showing true and perceived barriers as well as environmental and individual barriers as they apply to either the hierarchy of controls, or as they fit within the seven elements, as recommended by NIOSH, of a hearing conservation program.
  4. To characterize, develop, and evaluate potential interventions targeted to improve existing hearing conservation program elements. A collection of interventions will be generated and provided to industry. Additionally, processes to evaluate the impact of those interventions will be generated and enacted to gauge success of the research and individual outputs.

This project will allow NIOSH researchers to identify primary noise sources and noise-hazardous areas at surface mining facilities. This will provide direction and objectives for conducting future, follow-on research studies on noise remediation and engineering controls—for example, partnering with mining equipment manufacturers to develop quieter machinery, rather than applying after-market noise controls. Information on job/work shift noise exposure obtained through this project research will increase the knowledge of true occupational hearing loss issues and will allow researchers, mine operators, and program managers to prioritize resources and efforts in protecting high-risk groups. Collectively, this will reduce overall hearing loss among the mining population. The results will demonstrate a broad context fit across the surface mining industry, with potential application to similar machines and tasks in construction and other heavy industries.

Page last reviewed: April 1, 2020
Page last updated: February 28, 2018