Preventing Hearing-Related Workplace Injuries August 18, 2020
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 22 million workers are exposed to noise hazards on the job every year, which makes hearing loss one of the most common job-related injuries. At high levels, noise exposure can result in long term or permanent hearing injuries – but more often than not, these injuries are 100% preventable. To effectively reduce noise-related hazards, employers must take steps to protect workers by implementing exposure and control measures as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) federal safety standards.
Warning Signs of Hazardous Noise Exposure
If sound levels in a workplace are higher than 85 decibels, the noise can kill the nerve endings in the inner ear. OSHA says a good cheat sheet to determine if noise exposure is a problem in your workplace is if you are hearing humming or ringing in your ears when you leave work, if you have to raise your voice to speak to someone who is three feet away (or in other words at arms length) or if you are experiencing temporary bouts of hearing loss. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms related to dangerous levels of sound exposure, you should make an appointment with your doctor. When nerve endings in the inner ear are damaged or destroyed by noise exposure, it can result in permanent hearing loss that is impossible to correct through medicine or surgery.
Luckily, there are steps that every employer can take to prevent workers from developing long term or permanent noise-related injuries. Employers are required to provide employees with a safe and healthful workplace. Preventing exposure to potentially damaging noises at work is just one way to fulfill this obligation. OSHA mandates employers in workplaces with noise exposure rates at or above 85 decibels averaged over 8 working hours to have hearing conservation programs in place. Hearing conservation programs have to goal of reducing initial occupational hearing loss, preserving and protecting remaining hearing, and equipping workers with the necessary knowledge and hearing protection devices to safeguard themselves.
Ways to Prevent Job-Related Hearing Loss
Hearing conservation programs utilize many different control methods for mitigating industrial hearing loss-related risks, such as:
- Isolating noise sources
- Limiting worker exposure to high levels of noise
- Using quieter machinery and equipment
- Providing effective protective equipment, such as earplugs or ear muffs
The Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that $242 million is spent on workers’ compensation claims for hearing loss-related injuries and disabilities every year, which highlights just how important it is that employers provide adequate protections for at-risk workers.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Employers must also provide workers with training in a language they can understand on how to identify and recognize noise-related hazards on the job. Individuals who work around high noise levels should keep an eye out for some of the common warning signs and symptoms of hearing loss, which include:
- Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or while in crowd settings
- Trouble hearing consonants
- Muffling of speech and other sounds
- Frequently needing to ask people to repeat what they said or to speak more slowly, loudly, and clearly
- Needing to turn up the volume on the television or radio
- Avoidance of social situations and/or withdrawing from conversations as a result of hearing difficulties
Workers who experience hearing loss resulting from safety failures on the job are eligible to a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to workers injured in the course of their employment and as a result of their employer’s negligence. If you would like to learn more about filing a workers’ compensation claim, someone at our firm can help. Contact a representative online now.
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