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A current affair: worker perceptions of noise exposure and occupational hearing loss in Australian coal mines.

BACKGROUND: The objective of the online survey was to determine worker attitudes towards, perceptions on hearing loss, and management of workplace noise; and to identify barriers within current strategies that prevent effective management of hearing health in Australian mines.

DESIGN: This cross-sectional study utilized a modified survey design, initially designed for use by Safe Work Australia for a broader study published in 2010.

STUDY SAMPLE: The survey questionnaire was made available online to volunteer participants, recruited with the assistance of State and National Health and Safety, and mining organizations. Volunteer participants were required to be proficient in English, be employed by an Australian underground or open cut mine, including coal processing plants; or work as a contractor on one of the specified mine sites. All mining employees, regardless of occupation, job title, and occupational hearing loss classification or status, were invited to complete the questionnaire.

RESULTS: Almost 60% of respondents indicated that they had high noise exposure for than 10 yr or more, and have some trouble hearing, mostly associated with infrequent tinnitus. Nearly 71% of these workers believe that the noise control strategies in their workplaces are effective, but this mostly refers to the use of hearing protection devices.

CONCLUSION: The results indicate that general knowledge on the cause and effect of noise exposure in the workplace is well understood. However, due to the long latency associated with the development of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), there is an issue urgency in terms of risk management. It is surprising that most of the respondents recommended more inspections and administrative controls, especially since most respondents were health, safety, and environment (HSE) professionals. HSE professionals should be advocating for higher order, more permanent solutions, and not purely administrative controls and personal protective equipment. These findings raise the question of whether there is a multifaceted working-culture issue that needs to be addressed, in combination with higher order control implementation.

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