FEATURED: Study reveals dangers of noise pollution in work environment

Dr John Bukuru examining ears of one of his patients. / All photos by James P. Nkurunziza

A new research carried out in Rwanda has shown the extent and dangers faced by employees in their work places especially in both the carpentry and metal workshops, which has left many of them with partial deafness.

In the most recent edition of Rwanda Public Health Bulletin published by the Ministry of Health together with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre in March 2019, Major Dr. John Bukuru, a Consultant and Surgeon with the Ear Nose Throat Department at the Rwanda Military Hospital, in clear terms highlights the issues faced by workers who work under high levels of noise.

In an interview with The New Times, he said that the study was about the prevalence of occupational noise-induced hearing loss among wood and metal work in the workshops of Gakiriro both at Gisozi and in the Central Business District.

He says that there was a need to identify the sound intensity levels which were found to be high and even the figures of affected people were also high as 35.5% were found with noise induced hearing loss which was above 85db.

Dr. Bukuru says that the people most affected are between the ages of 30-39 years which shows that a large number of people with in the required workforce are the ones usually most vulnerable.

An ear specialist making tests to a person with a hearing problem.

He noted that out of the 600 workers consulted in these two workspaces, 10% were found to have issues of noise-induced hearing loss.

On the number of cases from both the carpentry and metal workshops, he says that the study showed that there was an average of noise intensity levels of 105.4db in metal workshops whereas in wood, it was slightly lower at 99.4db.

These are all way above the recommended intensity level of 85db.

He goes ahead to caution employers to always make sure that there is a baseline hearing test on employers before they are hired and also carry out follow up every six months to check their hearing status.

Acquiring protective gears for the workers should also be made priority and also ensure sure that the affected people can also be rehabilitated as such services are also offered at the hospital.

Dr Bukuru urges employers have to their workers insured against occupation hazards, which he said can go a long way in making sure that even if they get complications, they have somewhere to start from when they are laid off from work.

In regards to dealing with people with hearing issues, the Ear, Nose Throat Department (ENT) at the hospital has now services that help identify if newly born babies have hearing issues and have them rectified at a very young age instead of correcting them when it is out of hand when the children have also failed to speak.

“Hearing loss among children usually an issue many parents don’t notice when the child is still young until the child fails to speak and that is when parents reach out for medical assistance,” he said.

Part of the equipment at the Ear Nose Throat Department at the Kanombe Military Hospital.

He added that all parents should make sure they have their children checked as early as possible to correct any hearing issues in case they are there.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Director of Labour Administration in the Ministry of Public Service and Labour Patrick Kananga, he said that the ministry is doing a lot to see that employers provide the necessary protective gear to protect their workers against the effects of extreme levels of noise.

He said that a number of measures have been taken to ensure that the issue of hearing loss due to exposure to nose pollution is greatly mitigated.

Among the measures taken include; -putting in place Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) National Policy of October 2014, putting in place different Standards especially labour law No 66/2018 of 30/8/2019, adoption of ISO 45001 on OSH by RSB, establishment of Noise Hazard control laboratory by RSB, ad also conducting regular inspections in areas that are known of having the metal and carpentry workshops.

On what ought to be done, he stressed that there should be implementation of the Labour Law which states that employers should provide protective gear for the employees such as gumboots, helmets, gloves among others.

Failure to abide by the law, he said, would lead to penalties that involve huge amounts of money, imprisonment or both.

According to Irene Bagahirwa, the acting Director of Injuries and Disabilities in RBC/NCDs Division, RBC is implementing the recently developed National plan 2018-2024 which is one of the government commitment in the fight against all the causes of hearing loss. She says that the priorities of this plan being implemented actually are about prevention, early detection, care and treatment and rehabilitation.

She says that RBC will in those five years fight to prevent avoidable causes of hearing loss, hearing loss, deafness and noise pollution as well as availing ear and hearing care services across the country.

She also says that in order to curb this issue, there will be massive sensitization to create awareness through informing people about the prevention measures to be taken by all concerned stakeholders.

Efforts to get the side of the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) as a body that provides insurance including those of work hazards where hearing loss is part of were futile.