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Work-related noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable but irreversible condition that affects many South African workers.
Noise-related injuries are most common in the manufacturing and construction industries with technicians and trades workers, machinery operators, drivers and labourers most exposed.
Too much noise at work can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss or tinnitus—ringing in the ears. Hearing damage can occur from extended exposure to noise or exposure to very loud impact or explosive sounds.
Noise is defined as unwanted, physically, frustrating or physiologically damaging sound. Prolonged exposure to noise levels at or above 85 dBA can cause permanent noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus . Noise may also interfere with speech communication, cause annoyance and reduce the productivity of employees.
Long term exposure to loud noise is the most common preventable cause of hearing loss.
Exposure to noise in the workplace is governed by the Noise Induced Hearing Loss Regulations, OHSAct (85 of 1993) and the Occupational Hygiene Regulations, MHSAct (29 of 1996). In accordance with the legislation, employees may not be allowed to enter any workplace where the noise level is at or above the 85 dBA noise rating limit.
Sound stimulates tiny hair-like cells in your inner-ear, which send messages to your brain. Noise-induced hearing loss occurs because excessive noise damages those delicate hair cells. Noise-induced hearing loss can't be cured and it worsens as noise exposure continues.
Exposure to some chemicals can also result in hearing loss. These chemicals are known as ototoxic substances. Hearing loss is more likely to occur if a worker is exposed to both noise and ototoxic substances than to just one alone.