Is your workplace too loud? Do you often have to shout or speak loudly to make yourself heard? Do you sometimes feel slightly deaf or having a ringing in your ears after leaving work? If so, you may be at risk of developing occupational hearing loss.
Hearing damage is one of the most common workplace injuries in the United States. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that some 30 million American workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels on the job each year. Several thousands of these workers – sometimes as many as 21,000 per year – wind up suffering permanent hearing damage or loss.
Occupational hearing loss is preventable, however. When employers monitor and reduce the noise levels in the workplace and protect employees from loud, persistent noise, the risk of experiencing on-the-job hearing loss can be substantially reduced.
Moreover, employers have an obligation to take steps to protect workers from harmful levels of noise. OSHA requires employees exposed to an 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 decibels or greater to receive hearing protectors from their employer. In addition, employers must take other steps to minimize the noise and reduce decibel levels, such as engineering controls, wherever possible.
Causes of occupational hearing loss
Occupational hearing loss is usually caused by damage to the inner ear resulting from exposure to intense noise or vibrations in the workplace. Most workers who suffer from occupational hearing loss are exposed to hazardous noise levels over a prolonged period of time, causing gradual hearing damage. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, noise levels in excess of 85 decibels for periods of 8-hours or longer are hazardous to hearing.
Hearing loss can also be caused by an “acoustic trauma”: a sudden burst of sound, such as an explosive blast, that causes immediate damage to the inner ear and causes an abrupt change in hearing ability.
Less frequently, exposure to an ototoxic drug or chemical may also cause hearing damage. Ototoxic chemicals are those that harm the structures of the inner ear or its nerve supply, resulting in both hearing loss and equilibrium problems. The risk of suffering such injuries are amplified if you are exposed to ototoxic chemicals and excessive noise levels simultaneously.
Occupations with a high risk of hearing loss
Any person frequently exposed to loud and high frequency noises in the workplace are at increased risk of experiencing job-related hearing loss. At particular risk are workers in jobs and industries such as:
- aviation, especially airport staff and ground control
- musicians, DJs and nightclub staff
- firefighters and paramedics
- motorcycle couriers
- chemical industries
Employees in these jobs and industries should speak to their employers about ways to reduce the risk of hearing loss. If you have discussed your concerns about hearing loss with your employer but continue to be exposed to hazardous levels of noise without adequate protection or other controls, you should file a confidential complaint with OSHA. You do not have to tolerate an unsafe workplace.
Symptoms of occupational hearing loss
Occupational hearing loss can be either permanent or temporary, affecting both ears or only one. Typical symptoms of hearing damage may include having a difficult time understanding people when they speak or perceiving most people as mumbling.
You may also notice that:
- sounds seem distorted or muffled
- you need to turn up the volume of the television or radio to hear better
- you can’t hear high-pitched sounds like birds singing, watch or clock alarms, telephones or doorbells ringing
- you hear a high-pitched ringing, whistling or roaring sound in your ear (tinnitus).
What to do if you suffer occupational hearing loss
Employees that have suffered occupational hearing loss are entitled to workers’ compensation. Nonetheless proving that the hearing loss was job-related (and not, for example, age-related) can be a tricky business.
If you are experiencing symptoms of occupational hearing loss to help preserve your rights to workers’ compensation, do not wait to take the following three steps:
- see a doctor (an otorlaryngologist)
- notify your employer of your hearing loss
- contact a qualified workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your case.
The earlier you start documenting your hearing loss and preparing your case, the easier your path to obtaining workers’ compensation will likely be.
If you have any questions regarding occupational hearing loss or damage, speak to an experienced Albany workers’ compensation lawyer. Contact me, Paul Giannetti, today at (866) 868-2960 or contact me online.