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The dangers of drill work

Simon Ngubane is a worker on a building site. When he works the air thunders, the ground rumbles and his whole body shakes.

Simon works with a machine called the ‘Umadumelana Rumbler’.

Umadumelana is the name that workers in South Africa give to an air drill. Air drills are big machines that use air to cut metal, rock and concrete.

Thousands of workers all over the world use air drills. They use these drills for work in mines, foundries, dockyards, motor factories, building sites and on the roads.

The rumbling and the shaking of Umadumelana give workers many problems. The machine does a lot of damage to workers’ health. We spoke to a man who works with Umadumelana. He told us about his job and the dangers of working with the drill.


Simon Ngubane is from Escort in Natal. He is 21 years old and he uses an air drill to break down walls on a building site.

Simon says he doesn’t like working with the machine. But he has no choice. He was fired from his last job and he needs money.

“I must work,” says Simon. “My mother is very old and my young brother is still at school. I must send money home to pay for food, clothes and school fees. My father cannot help – he died a long time ago.

“The other workers here don’t want to use the drill,” says Simon. “They know that it is very dangerous. I get R49 a week because I use the drill. The other workers here work with a shovel. They only get R38 a week. They think I am very brave.

“They are afraid of Umadu­melana. It is very dangerous. It is full of noise – especially if it is old. Sometimes my boss talks to me from behind. Then I cannot hear him. I am worried that one day I will have an accident because I cannot hear what the boss is saying. It is better when he stands in front of me. Then I can read the words on his tips or his hands.

“The air from the drill makes a lot of dust,” says Simon. “The dust from the cement and bricks gets into my nose. l feel like I cannot breath the air. I only feel like coughing.

“After work the noise does not leave my ears. When. I sleep in the evening I hear a funny noise. I can hear Umadumelana even when I go to sleep. It does not help to block my ears. Why don’t they make the machine silent? ” Simon asks.

“I am tired of this thing,” says Simon. “Look at my hands. They have blisters on the inside.

Another man’s hands here are even peeling on the outside. My finger and thumb are very sore.

“When I wash after work it feels like bees are stinging my hands. I think it is because of the drill. My arm is also very sore sometimes. I think this thing is killing me.”


Simon is not the only drill worker who suffers from these problems. A group of doctors from overseas studied the dangers of drill work. They spoke to many workers. The doctors found out that drill workers all over the world suffer from many problems.

Deafness. Simon says he hears a funny noise after work. This is bad news. It means he is going deaf. Many drill ·workers go deaf. At· first the deafness only lasts for a short time. If the worker rests often, then the deafness goes away soon. But if workers use Umadumelana for a long time with no rest, then they may go deaf forever.

Dead Finger: Many drill workers complain of pains in their fingers. These pains can be the start of a disease called “dead finger”. The shaking of the drill stops the blood from going to the fingers. When a worker gets dead finger his fingers go a greenish – white colour.

Workers with dead finger complain of pains in their hands at night – just like Simon. Doctors cannot cure dead finger. Sometimes doctors must even cut off the workers’ fingers or hands.

No Sleep and Nervous Problems: The noise of the machine also gives workers nervous problems. Workers who work with the machines say they don’t sleep properly. They say they feel weak and their heads are sore and heavy. And they say that they get angry very quickly. Some workers also say that they cannot make love after they have worked with the machines for a long time.


Doctors say they can’t easily help workers after they get sick from the drill. They say the bosses must help the workers before they get sick. They say the bosses can do some things to save the health of their workers.

Gloves and Ear Muffs. Bosses must give all drill workers ear muffs and gloves. The ear muffs will help to stop the danger to workers’ ears. And the gloves can help to stop the drill from shaking the workers’ hands. But some doctors say that these gloves can make the shaking worse. They say the gloves make the worker hold the drill more tightly.

Look After the Machines: Many bosses do not look after their drills. Then the machines make more noise. Bosses must buy drills that make less noise – even if these machines are more expensive.

Rest Rooms and Many Breaks: Bosses must give drill workers tea breaks and lunch breaks often. They must not make workers use machines like Umadumelana for many hours with no break. The place where workers have their lunch and tea must be quiet and away from the noise.

Organize. Many doctors know that workers suffer from health problems because of their work. They say bosses can do many things to make work more safe. “But most bosses don’t like to spend money on safety,” says a doctor. “So workers must get together and fight for better safety. They must join trade unions and fight for better and healthier lives. This is the only way.”.


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