Even with the best protections in place, countless workers suffer from hearing loss after working in a loud and hazardous environment. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 24% of the hearing difficulty among U.S. workers is caused by occupational exposures.
During October, National Protect Your Hearing Month, it’s a good time for employers and employees to educate themselves on how to protect themselves from different types of hearing loss associated with occupational hazards.
Let’s take a look at:
- Industries with Hearing Loss Risks
- How to Protect Yourself at Work
- Filing a Workers’ Comp Claim for Hearing Loss
Industries with Hearing Loss Risks
Occupational hearing loss happens in almost every industry but is of particular risk to people working in environments that involve heavy equipment and machinery. In environments that produce continuous and excessive noise, employees may experience hearing loss caused by repetitive auditory exposure.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workers in the following industries are at the greatest risk for hearing loss:
- Agriculture: The modernization of farming has led to higher efficiency and productivity due to equipment like tractors, combines, harvesters, and plows. These large pieces of agricultural equipment also bring auditory health risks. Workers who are exposed repeatedly to loud, noisy equipment can develop hearing issues and loss over time.
- Construction: More than half of all construction workers are exposed to hazardous noise on the job and approximately 14% suffer from some sort of hearing damage. Being on a construction site can be dangerous, especially with the noise from jackhammers, saws, nail guns, and other equipment.
- Manufacturing: Loud sounds from machinery and trucks create a risk of hearing loss for manufacturing workers. Conveyor belts can reach up to 95 decibels, well above the safe range of 70 decibels for auditory health.
- Mining: Twenty-five percent of mineworkers have a hearing problem and the primary culprit is hazardous noise. 76% of mineworkers are exposed to hazardous noise levels, making it the riskiest industry for potential hearing loss.
- Transportation: Air traffic controllers, subway operators, pilots, flight attendants, and bus and truck drivers are exposed to loud engine noises frequently, sometimes for more than 8 hours straight. The deafening sounds can damage the ear canal and cause both temporary and permanent hearing damage.
Other industries which may contribute to hearing injury or illness include:
- Entertainment: The decibel level for a conversation is about 60 dB, a lawn mower is around 90 dB and a rock concert? Nearly 120 dB! Without proper ear protection, workers in the music industry can slowly lose their hearing after repeated exposure to concerts and live music.
- Healthcare: Healthcare equipment like dental drills and surgical instruments create high-pitched noises that can cause hearing loss over time. Even if a healthcare worker is only exposed for short durations, the exposure over time can cause adverse health effects.
- Education: Educators, especially in elementary schools, are exposed to a steady flow of loud and high-pitched sounds. Recess and lunchtime are particularly noisy.
If your hearing was impacted by your job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation insurance benefits. Workers’ comp can help you with your medical expenses, lost wages, and related costs. Filing a workers’ comp claim can become complicated after an ear injury, so consult with a lawyer who specializes in workers’ comp claims. Your attorney can help you navigate the process and fight for your rights under workers’ compensation law.
How to Protect Your Hearing at Work
If you work in a high-risk hearing loss industry, it’s important to take proper precautionary measures to protect your health. Nearly all work-related hearing loss is permanent, and it can have a huge impact on your quality of life. Hearing loss can lead to feelings of isolation, can cause cognitive decline, and is even associated with heart problems.
Here are several ways to protect yourself from loud noises on the job:
- Find out if the noise at your job is considered hazardous. Ask your safety manager or your supervisor to check the noise levels in your environment. Safe levels are below 85 dB. You can also check the decibel level using the NIOSH Sound Level Meter app.
- Reduce your noise exposure. There are several ways to lessen your exposure to loud noises including wearing ear protection, taking breaks, and moving away from loud noises. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration addresses noise hazards and requires employers to provide proper protection from noise.
- Reduce or stop exposure to certain chemicals. While noise is the leading cause of hearing loss, some chemicals also contribute to hearing injuries and illnesses. Some chemicals including certain pesticides, solvents, and pharmaceuticals that contain ototoxicants can negatively affect how the ear functions, causing hearing loss.
- Consult an audiologist. Having your hearing tested by an audiologist can help you assess your current hearing function and provide recommendations for proper hearing protection. You should always see an audiologist if you suspect your hearing has been damaged to discuss the next steps.
Even with proper precautions in place, you may still suffer a hearing-related injury on the job. If you feel your hearing loss is a result of repeated exposure to noise or chemicals at your workplace, reach out to a workers’ comp attorney to discuss your rights. You may be entitled to benefits for your injuries.
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Hearing Loss
Filing a workers’ comp claim for an injury can be a complicated process, especially if it involves hearing loss. Unlike other workers’ comp claims which are designed to help you recover fully from your injury, the goal of hearing loss claims is to help provide you with the proper resources and long-term tools such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to improve your hearing.
There are specific requirements to be able to receive workers’ comp for hearing loss. To be eligible for benefits, you must have a hearing loss in both ears of at least 10 percent. If you feel you’ve suffered a work-related injury that has caused hearing damage, be sure to follow the proper steps to file a claim:
- Inform your employer of your injury. The workers’ comp process begins when you inform your employer of your injury. At the time of notification, your employer is required to provide you with the next steps to receive benefits.
- Seek medical treatment. Your employer may require you to see an approved workers’ comp physician for your work-related injury. Their doctor will perform an exam to assess your health and provide documentation to your employer and their workers’ compensation insurer. You are required to see their physician for the first 90 days after your injury. If your employer does not have a list of workers’ comp doctors, or after 90 days, you can choose your own medical provider.
- Keep detailed notes. One of the reasons some workers’ comp claims are denied is there is not enough documentation to prove the injury was caused at work. Document loud noises or exposure to chemicals every time at work.
- Get an attorney on your side. Filing a claim can be overwhelming. Your employer and its insurance company have a team of attorneys working for them – you deserve the same. To ensure your rights are protected, get in touch with an attorney as soon as possible.
Your Workers’ Compensation Legal Team
At the law offices of Dale E. Anstine, our focus is always on you. We have been representing injured workers in the York, Hanover, Gettysburg, and surrounding areas for decades. We understand the intricacies of the legal system in Central PA and are ready to help you fight for your rights.
If you were injured on the job and suffered hearing loss, reach out today. We offer free, no-obligation consultations and do not charge a fee unless we recover benefits for you. Let us take on the burden and stress of a workers’ comp claim for you.