New Technology and Noise-Induced Hearing Loss seminar at Wits SoPH 2017

The South African Society of Occupational Medicine (SASOM) organised a very successful seminar on ‘New technology and Noise Induced Hearing Loss’ at the School of Public Health (SoPH), University of the Witwatersrand, on 4 September 2017. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) project leader, Van Zyl Brink, introduced the speaker, Olav KvalØy, from SINTEF Digital Acoustics in Norway. Olav is an electrical engineer involved in circuit design and acoustics. After starting his career in the acoustics department of the Norwegian Institute of Technology, he spent 10 years as an engineer in an ear, nose and throat (ENT) hospital department. Olav is active in the Norwegian audiological society, and for the last 17 years has been a research scientist at SINTEF in Trondheim in the acoustics department, where one of the most important projects has been the development of a wireless intelligent advanced hearing protection communication system.

Olav presented an overview of the Wireless Intelligent Hearing Protection Device developed by SINTEF and some preliminary results of a pilot study of the device at a surface mine in South Africa. As part of a trial of multipurpose wireless sensor networks to enhance safety and health for miners, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pretoria sponsored a collaboration between SINTEF and the CSIR to assess the feasibility and acceptability of the hearing protection technology, and its potential use in the mining industry. The pilot study, arranged by Dr Thérèse Maarschalk, was conducted at Voorspoed mine, where volunteers from different areas and doing different jobs wore the hearing protection during their normal shifts.

Some of the features of the hearing device are initial ‘noise leak’ testing around the earplug; real-time, personal noise exposure measurement throughout the shift (outside and inside the ear canal); adjustment of protection, depending on the environmental noise level; communication from others through a microphone system; measurement of temporary threshold shift; and digital collection of the continuous exposure data for each individual, which can be downloaded to a database.

The pilot study enabled Olav to investigate the experiences and opinions of a small sample of surface miners, including a drill rig operator, a mining operator and boilermakers who used the intelligent hearing device, and to compare their personal exposures to the activities during the work shift. One of the most valuable outcomes of the pilot study for the workforce was the fostering of self-empowerment, with the involvement of each worker in reviewing his exposure visually in graphic format and thus seeing the risks of removing protection during the shift.

The seminar was well attended by members of SASOM, the Southern African Institute for Occupational Hygiene (SAIOH), the South African Society of Occupational Health Nursing Practitioners (SASOHN), and a variety of other interested individuals, from audiologists to engineers. Olav encouraged the 50-strong audience to engage in a lively discussion on both the technology of, and the means to improve, hearing protection across all industries. At the request of the participants, he gave the optional additional presentation on tinnitus, a topic in which he has a keen interest. The analogy of tinnitus being akin to phantom limb sensations, and the potential management of the condition, stimulated further animated discussion, before the seminar was closed on behalf of SASOM and the project team by Prof. Mary Ross.


Report by:

Prof. Mary Ross

SASOM ExCo and Honorary Life Member



From left to right: Thérèse Maarschalk, Mary Ross, Olav Kvaløy and Van Zyl Brink
Photograph: Angela Butkovic

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