Noise induced hearing loss has been extensively researched and commented on, yet it remains prevalent among industrial workers. The real-world attenuation properties of the Noise Clipper® custom-made hearing protection device and the comfort levels it afford are unknown. Furthermore, research in hearing conservation is seldom focused on the critical/biological thresholds for temporary threshold shift. Field studies on hearing protection devices have demonstrated that laboratory derived measures bear little relation to attenuation achieved in workers. Research has consistently demonstrated that noise reduction ratings that are derived from the laboratory real-ear-at-threshold method do not accurately represent the attenuation of noise that these devices actually provide and the matter remains unclear. Too many important variables are neglected in current real-ear-atthreshold evaluation protocols. This study used an alternative method, the microphone-inreal- ear approach where a dual-element microphone probe was inserted into the Noise Clipper® to measure noise reduction by recording the difference in noise levels outside and behind the device. The sub aims of the study were to record ambient noise levels and frequency spectra; to determine the attenuation characteristics; and to compare the attenuation thresholds to biological thresholds for temporary threshold shift. Using this protocol, measurements were made on 20 subjects in real world situations in order to match the attenuation characteristics of the Noise Clipper® to the actual noise exposure. The microphone-in-real-ear derived attenuation thresholds were compared to the real-earat- threshold values provided by the manufacturer of the Noise Clipper®. Additional subaims were to determine the comfort levels of the Noise Clipper® and record the selfreported wearing time of the device. Wearing comfort was evaluated using a bipolar rating scale. The researcher interviewed 240 mine workers at a platinum mine. Several comfort related sub-scales were used to quantify reported comfort levels. Simultaneously, usage time of the device was self-reported by each worker. Results of the microphone-in-real-ear measurements indicated that ambient noise levels fluctuated from day to day. The attenuation results indicated that most of the measurements suggested protection against noise induced hearing loss through the use of the Noise Clipper®. It was found that the REAT results over estimated the attenuation ability of the Noise Clipper® when compared to the results of the F-MIRE measurements. Eighty seven percent of the measurements indicated protection from thresholds below the biological threshold for temporary threshold shift. Seventy five percent of the workers indicated that the Noise Clipper® was comfortable to wear and 79% indicated that they used it for a full eight hour shift. The results provide an opportunity to assess the use of a protection device and its effectiveness among mineworkers combined with information regarding noise exposure levels. The findings highlight the importance of evaluating variability in terms of individual-specific protection.
Dissertation (MCommunication Pathology)--University of Pretoria, 2013.