Occupational hearing loss in Australian mining: Prevalence, management and prevention

Author Identifier

Adelle Liebenberg


Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Supervisor

Jacques Oosthuizen

Second Supervisor

Sue Reed


This research focuses on occupational hearing loss (OHL) in the Australian mining sector. The research aimed to gain insights into the nature and extent of OHL, identify intervention strategies to prevent its progression, and explore workers' perceptions and barriers related to OHL and noise control.

The research consisted of two major themes. The first was a cross-sectional, repeated observational study conducted to examine the hearing threshold levels (HTL) of workers in NSW coal mines, and compare them to an age-matched population. The aim was to determine if there was any noticeable OHL in the mandatory pre-employment audiograms of these workers. The results revealed that older workers, specifically those aged 45-60, exhibited clinically significant hearing loss ( > 25dBHL), particularly at higher frequencies associated with excessive noise exposure.

The second theme was a scoping review conducted to explore published evidence on intervention strategies to prevention the progression of OHL. The review identified nine studies out of 1,309 initially considered. Most of the interventions focused on lower order controls such as administrative measures and personal protective equipment (PPE). Examples of these interventions included awareness training, health monitoring, mandating the use of hearing protection devices, and assessing personal attenuation ratings. However, there was limited evidence on interventions specifically targeted at preventing the progression of OHL. Only one study mentioned isolating workers from noise sources. This suggests a need for further research and development of targeted and effective interventions.

The second theme also involved research using an online survey to gather insights from workers regarding their perceptions and beliefs about OHL and noise control. The survey found that nearly 60% of respondents had been exposed to high noise levels for 10 years or more. These workers reported some hearing difficulties, including infrequent tinnitus. However, approximately 71% of these workers believed that the noise control strategies in their workplaces were effective, primarily referring to the use of hearing protection devices. This highlights a potential over-reliance on personal protective equipment and suggests a need for higher order control measures.

Overall, the research underscores the significance of OHL in the Australian mining sector, particularly coal mining in NSW. It reveals a higher prevalence of hearing loss among older workers and emphasizes the importance of implementing targeted interventions to prevent the progression of OHL on a national scale. Additionally, the study points out the scarcity of literature on effective interventions to prevent OHL progression. This underscores the necessity for further research and the development of evidence-based interventions specifically tailored to address this issue. This research raises concerns about the prevailing working culture related to OHL, and the need to address broader issues alongside implementing control measures, including advocating for higher order controls beyond administrative measures and PPE.

In conclusion, this research provides insight on the challenges and opportunities associated with OHL in the Australian mining sector. It provides valuable insights into the nature and extent of OHL, suggests the need for targeted interventions and worker-centred practices, and emphasizes the importance of addressing broader working-culture issues. By implementing the recommendations of this study, the mining industry can work towards mitigating the risks of OHL and ensuring the wellbeing of its workers.



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