The emphasis when it comes to employees and safety is that they should always make use of protective wear. However, it has been proven that even with protective wear, prolonged exposure to certain elements could lead to an incident.

This blog is to highlight the effects of prolonged exposure to hazards even in cases where protective wear is improvised.

An employee was employed by a certain company as a specialist in conducting non-destructive test in factories and mines. In short, his job was to do as Ultrasonic Testing. He had been performing the same duties for about 21 years or longer when it was believed that the employee had developed a hearing problem as he had been exposed to different noise levels. He was exposed, during his shifts, to a maximum of 85db. But, while conducting his job, the employee was exposed to such high noise levels for, sometimes, the entire length of his shift.

This led him to suffer Noise Induced Hearing loss because the noise levels were continuous for a prolonged period. Once his problem was identified, a survey was conducted. It was established that the employee had worn his protective personal wear appropriately during all his shifts and duties. But due to the excessive and continuous noise decibels, he still had developed a hearing problem.

The company was left with no other option but to book the employee off. The number of days lost, TTD and medical costs have not been indicated yet but the effects indicated the employee had a 16,6 % hearing loss.

Due to lack of adequate documentation, no process has yet commenced particularly on capturing and reporting of incident to the Workman's Compensation Authority (WCA). Neither the TTD nor the PD was provided as it is supposed to be calculated based on the information on medical reports which was not provided either. Therefore the case is still pending.

Internal investigation indicated that the employee has always abided by the rules of using PPE, as is stipulated in the South African Occupational Health and Safety Act. But the impact of the Ultrasonic Testing was simply too extreme on his eardrum which eventually caused the hearing loss problem.

While the employer can claim he had done everything in his power to prevent the problem from happening, one can easily argue differently. Ensuring the well-being of an employee doesn't stop with providing personal protective equipment alone. The employer should also have considered the duration of noise and noise levels the employee was exposed too. More importantly, the employer should have sent the employee for regular hearing check-ups so as to identify hearing loss problems as soon as they occur. This could have exposed the problem at a much earlier stage and, as such, allowed both the employer and employee to take additional measures.

Surely, 16,6% hearing loss is too much a percentage for one to lose naturally. Employers should always consider other means of protecting employees including considering other tools or equipment that could have either assisted or taken over the job. Companies should do their utmost to ensure the safety and security of their employees. Even when this means that equipment can make an employee becoming obsolete.

Posted date: 2nd Sep 2014
Latest News - Risk Assessment - Occupational Health

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