Noise exposures and hearing loss in the mining industry continue to be a major problem, despite advances in noise control technologies. This study evaluated the effectiveness of engineering, administrative, and personal noise controls using both traditional and in-ear dosimetry by job task, work shift, and five types of earplug. The noise exposures of 22 miners performing deep shaft-sinking tasks were evaluated during 56 rotating shifts in an underground mine. Miners were earplug-insertion trained, earplug fit-tested, and monitored utilizing traditional and in-ear dosimetry. The mean TWA8 noise exposure via traditional dosimetry was 90.1 ± 8.2 dBA, while the mean in-ear TWA8 was 79.6 ± 13.8 dBA. The latter was significantly lower (p < 0.05) than the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) personal exposure limit (PEL) of 90 dBA. Dosimetry mean TWA8 noise exposures for bench blowing (103.5 ± 0.9 dBA), jumbo drill operation (103.0 ± 0.8 dBA), and mucking tasks (99.6 ± 4.7 dBA) were significantly higher (p < 0.05) than other tasks. For bench blowing, cable pulling, grinding, and jumbo drill operation tasks, the mean in-ear TWA8 was greater than 85 dBA. Those working swing shift had a significantly higher (p < 0.001) mean TWA8 noise exposure (95.4 ± 7.3 dBA) than those working day shift. For percent difference between traditional vs. in-ear dosimetry, there was no significant difference among types of earplug used. Reflective of occupational hearing loss rate trends across the mining industry, this study found that, despite existing engineering and administrative controls, noise exposure levels exceeded regulatory limits, while the addition of personal hearing protection limited excessive exposures. This project was supported by the Science Foundation Arizona Grant.
The full research report can be found here.
Eric Lutz was a contributor on this project but has since left the University of Arizona.