In terms of Reg. 2 of the Noise Induces Hearing Loss Regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act no employer may allow a person to enter or work in an area where the noise rating is at or above 85 dBA.

In order to know if your workplace has any noise zones (areas above 85 dB) a noise survey should be carried out. These surveys may only be carried out by an Approved Inspection Authority. We recommend to our clients that a noise survey should be included in the statutory environmental monitoring that normally must be carried out once every two years, or when a major change has taken place in the operation.

If the operation has no noise zones, the company has proof that its operation did not contribute to the hearing loss of an employee.

In the event that areas in the factory / yard are noise zones, the employer shall first try to mitigate the noise levels through engineering methods. If this does not reduce the noise levels to below 85 dBA, a number of steps need to be taken:

a. The area(s) need to be demarcated and at the entrance to these zones, symbolic signs need to be displayed that the wearing of hearing protection is required.
b. All employees working in these areas must be subjected to a baseline audiogram and thereafter annually provided the noise levels do not exceed 105 dBA, in which case it must be done every 6 month.
c. All employees who have to wear hearing protection must be trained. The training needs to be formal and must cover at least the ten points mentioned in Reg. 4 of the above mentioned Regulations.
d. Regular noise surveys need to be carried out (once every two years if the levels are below 105 dBA and annually if they are 105 dB or greater).
e. All assessments, medicals and training records must be kept for at least 40 years!
f. It remains the employers responsibility to ensure that personal protective equipment with the correct rating is issued free of charge and that all employees wear the equipment in the required areas (including the MD and the Chairman).

The employees subjected to noise levels of 85 dB and above also have certain duties:

a. Use measures adopted to reduce the noise levels (keep doors of a boxed in machine closed)
b. Report immediately any defect, damage or loss of noise control equipment.
c. Use personal hearing protection when in noise zones
d. Prohibit entering or staying in a noise zone if not wearing the required hearing protectors.
e. Cooperate with the employer in determining the noise exposure (e.g. wearing of a dosimeter)
f. Report for medical surveillance as required by Regulation 8
g. Report for information and training sessions as required by Regulation 4

Please note that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that all hearing protection is fully and properly used and to maintain these PPE’s in an efficient state, in good working order and in good repair and cleanliness. If an employee is not wearing the issued hearing protection correctly, he must be disciplined as he is not complying with the law. If this is not done, the employer is conniving with the employee. This is a criminal offence!

It is of the utmost importance that companies do comply with these Regulations as non-compliance could lead to civil action taken against the employer, which could run into hundreds of thousands of Rands, if not into millions.

Written by Frans Wilbrink of Wilbrink & Associates, tel. 031 – 266 9035