Original Research - Special Collection: Occupational Hearing Loss in Africa

A critical analysis of the current South African occupational health law and hearing loss

Warren G. Manning, Mershen Pillay
South African Journal of Communication Disorders | Vol 67, No 2 | a694 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajcd.v67i2.694 | © 2020 Warren G. Manning, Mershen Pillay | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 November 2019 | Published: 24 March 2020

About the author(s)

Warren G. Manning, Discipline of Audiology, School of Health Sciences, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Mershen Pillay, Discipline of Speech-Language Pathology, School of Health Sciences, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Occupational health laws must recognise the constitutional requirement of substantive equality, and its role in ‘the progressive realisation’ of the rights provided by Section 27.

Objectives: Our main aim is to review current South African occupational health law (vis-à-vis workers’ constitutional rights) in relation to hearing loss. We focus on gaps in the law regarding occupational hearing loss in South Africa.

Method: Our review of legal texts relies on experience as a methodological device augmented by the use of a critical science. Guided by literature or evidence synthesis methodologies, South African primary and secondary laws were reviewed along with unpublished (non-peer-reviewed) grey literature. An established six-step framework guided our thematic analysis. A semantic approach aided the critical interpretation of data using the Bill of Rights as a core analytical framework.

Results: Four themes are discussed: (1) separate and unequal regulatory frameworks; (2) monologic foregrounding of noise; (3) minimisation of vestibular disorders; and (4) dilution of ototoxic agents. The highly divided legal framework of occupational health and safety in South Africa perpetuates a monologic ‘excessive noise-hearing loss’ paradigm that has implications for the rights of all workers to equal protections and benefits. There is a need to harmonise occupational health and safety law, and expand the scope of hearing-protection legislation to include the full range of established ototoxic hazards.

Conclusion: Occupational audiology is dominated by efforts to address noise-induced hearing loss. A ‘noise’ despite the reality of workers’ exposures to a range of ototoxic stressors that act synergistically on the ear, resulting in audio-vestibular disorders.


Keywords

chemical; ototoxicity; occupational health; occupational health and safety law; audiology; hearing loss

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