One important finding in late 20th century industry is that the cost and practical effectiveness of programs emphasising “buy quiet” policies and engineering noise control are far superior to those mainly relying on hearing protection. Even more challenging is the notion that “doing nothing” proves to be more costly than some of these interventions. Examples of engineering noise control within the mining industry, or “taming the beast”, include: the use of alternative communication systems for operators of haulage trucks (3-5dB(A) reduction); silencers for inmine force air circulation fans (8-11dB(A) reduction); vibration isolation mounts for underground transport vehicles (10dB(A) reduction); and process substitution for mineral crushing (40dB(A) reduction). Other examples may be found in “Noise Control In Mining: 75 Noise Control Solutions” (Worksafe Australia, 1993), and similar texts.
Dollar conscious managers are often reluctant to consider such measures, however, in many cases the costs are low, and significant savings may be made through the use of inhouse materials (including discards), labour and expertise.
As research into the psychological and economic effects of noise on the mining industry matures it will become increasingly easy to relate these to individual companies. The weight of evidence suggests noise remains a grossly underestimated factor in equations of corporate prosperity. The good news is that proven solutions are well known and that Australia is well endowed with the relevant acoustical, engineering and audiological expertise with which to effect these. In addition, the initiatives taken by some key Australian mining companies to address noise serve as excellent cases studies from which others may benefit.
In the context of the far reaching effects of noise, the internationalisation of occupational health and safety standards within the mining industry and attendant pressures of corporate watchdogs, the early 21st century is likely to see effective noise management emerge as a prudent investment rather than an onerous “overhead”
* Ian Henderson is manager, international projects of Australian Hearing/National Acoustic Laboratories. email: email@example.com
Noise in mines
Surface Mining Equipment
Haulage trucks: 85-108dB(A)
Percussion drills: 80-102dB(A)
Underground Mining Equipment
Jumbo drills: 80-113dB(A)
Ventilation fans: 90-110dB(A)
Chutes and hoppers: 100-108dB(A)
Car shake-outs: 102-115dB(A)
Source: WA Department of Minerals and Energy, 1998.
Originally published in the March 2001 edition of Australia's Longwalls.