Noise is one of the most predominant hazardous agents in the workplace, with the mining industry having one of the highest occupational noise exposures and hearing loss risks. Loud noise is a physical hazard but also plays a role in psychological stress, reduces productivity, interferes with communication and can lead to incidents.

There are many processes, machines, and tools in mining that can cause harmful noise exposures to employees. At Haile Gold Mine, during a routine personal industrial hygiene monitoring, Mary Koerner, Senior Health & Safety Coordinator and her team identified that exploration drills were exposing employees to excessive noise levels.

Mary joined the Haile Gold Mine team in 2019, after working in health and safety in the mining, natural gas and aerospace industries for 12 years. She says her passion working in this field was amplified after joining the company, which has the safety and wellbeing of its people as its number one priority. “Helping people has always been my driving force and my role at OceanaGold has really reinforced that personal ambition,” Mary says.

In a joint effort between exploration and health and safety teams, several engineering controls were tested on the drills to reduce noise levels. The goal was to limit levels to an acceptable rate whereby drillers would only be required to wear single hearing protection – or even better – no hearing protection at all.

Potential noise sources were identified including the muffler, the engine and the head rotation speed. The team, lead by Exploration Supervisor, Justin Adams (with Mary in the picture), resolved to place a one-inch insulation under the rotation guard for the drill steel, which would reduce noise impacts by enclosing the noise source and creating a barrier between it and the driller. This solution succeeded in reducing the sound pressure level by from 98.7 dBA to 93 dBA.

Mary says this innovative solution will have profound, positive impacts on the drillers’ quality of work life for years to come. Teamwork, and collaborative processes that fostered innovation, were the key to success.

“Careful collection and presentation of data is key. And, while my job can be challenging at times, improving the health, morale and productivity of our team is what drives me to do better, every day.”

Image: Mary Koerner, Health & Safety Superintendent for Haile Gold Mine, graduated with a BA in Environmental Science Biology from The University of Montana Western and an MS in Industrial Hygiene from Montana Tech.