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Noise: a big danger to workers

“We need a better law.”

Are you going deaf? Do your ears “ring”? Are you sleeping badly? Do you feel tired? Are you losing your voice? Are you losing your balance? Do you feel sick when you eat? Do you feel nervous? Do you get headaches?

If you answer “yes” to one of these questions, you may have ear damage.

Over 250 thousand workers suffer ear damage in South Africa because they work in noisy places. The law does not look after these workers properly.

South Africa has only 32 factory inspectors for 30 thousand factories. The inspectors can only check a few factories. And factories only pay a small fine when they break the noise law. R200 is the biggest fine a company gets when they break the noise laws.

Learn and Teach heard about the noise problem from the Technical Advice Group (TAG) in Johannesburg. TAG is a group of engineers and scientists who help workers. They have made a study of noise.

Most of the noise laws are in a law called the Factories Act. But the Factories Act is changing next year. So TAG thinks next year is a good time to change the noise laws.

TAG wants the government to make these changes:

  • The government must make employers pay a bigger fine when they break the law. TAG says a R200 fine is not big enough. And the government must get more factory inspectors to check noise .

  • The law now says that noise must not be over 85 decibels (A). Decibels (A) tell us how loud the noise is. TAG wants the law changed to 80 decibels (A). And TAG wants workers who work with noise over 80 decibels (A) to go to an ear doctor every year. The doctor must check the workers’ ears.

  • The law says that workers must wear earplugs when they work with noise over 85 decibels(A). But TAG says this law is not good enough. Most workers don’t feel comfortable with earplugs. TAG wants employers to do more. Employers must share noisy work among many workers. Workers must not do noisy work all the time .

  • Employers must build special rooms. The rooms must have special floors and ceilings. Then the noise won’t harm other workers in the factory.

  • Employers must look after machines properly. Many machines are noisy because employers don’t look after them properly. And when employers buy new machines they must think about noise. They must try to buy machines that are not noisy – even when quieter machines are more expensive .

  • Workers who work with noise must have quiet rest rooms for lunch and tea­ breaks.

  • Workmen’s Compensation must pay much more money to workers who go deaf. Workers who go deaf get very little money from Workmen’s Compensation. And deaf workers must get money more easily from Workmen’s Compensation. Many deaf workers don’t get money from Workmen’s Compensation.

  • Some workers work in noisy places but the law doesn’t look after them. For example, the law does not look after road workers, building workers, brewery workers and mine workers. TAG says the law must look after all workers who work with noise.

But TAG says workers must not wait for the law to change. Workers must stand together to make their jobs safer. One worker alone can’t make his job safer. But workers in a trade union are strong enough to fight for safer jobs.

TAG says workers can do things to make their jobs safer. Workers can:

1) Measure the noise: Workers can hire special machines to measure noise. This is the best way. But there is a simple test. Two workers must stand back to back. One worker must say 10 different words (example: cat, house, soccer, spade, table, shoe, bus, heaven, radio, pencil). If the other worker only understands half the words, the noise is dangerous, But remember. the worker must not shout the words. He must talk the words.

2) Complain to the employer: Tell your employer when you think the noise is dangerous. Ask your employer to get people to measure the noise. Ask your employer to make the factory quieter. Ask your employer to let workers share noisy jobs. And when the noise is over 85 decibels(A), tell your employer to send workers to a doctor for tests once a year.

3) Get the inspectors to visit your factory: If your employer does not listen, write to the Department of Manpower. Tell the Department to send inspectors to your factory. When the inspectors come to the factory, tell them about your problems.

If you need help or advice, write to TAG. They will try their best to help.

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