Many workers know about some of the most common workplace injury threats, including slipping and falling, falling objects, and more. However, what many don’t realize is that the most common workplace injury in America is one that few people take precautionary measures against. Employees who work around heavy machinery, manufacturing, or large vehicles are often at an elevated risk to suffer from hearing loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 22 million workers are exposed to potentially hazardous levels of noise while at work, resulting in nearly $250 million spent on workers’ compensation and disability claims every year.
The mining industry is the most impacted, but construction and manufacturing are not far behind due to their dependence on heavy machinery. Those who work on the tarmac at airports are also at an extremely elevated risk due to the deafening noise created by jet engines from large planes.
However, these high-noise environments are far from the only high-risk offenders; a Stanford University study found that employees who work in moderate noise level environment suffer from hearing loss the most, primarily because the non-painful levels of sound often convince employers and employees that hearing protection isn’t necessary. Mark Cullen, who ran the study, stated “At very high noise exposures, people very faithfully wear hearing protection, and at low noise situations, people don’t.”
Have you ever been to a concert or sporting event and left with a loud ringing noise in your ears? That feeling of pressure and ringing is a small case of temporary hearing loss due to overexposure to noise. While this minor deafness may go away after a few hours, continual exposure to this level of noise may result in it becoming permanent, or worse. In moderate to severe cases of hearing loss, even normal noises like conversations or a distant hum of a lawnmower can result in piercing pain in your inner ear. Ringing can become frequent or even permanent, and you could even experience frequent dizziness from the damage. Medications exist that can treat these symptoms, but their success is hit-or-miss.
OSHA officials have found that despite technology existing that can protect workers from these serious consequences, workplaces are often slow to offer them or implement plans to protect their employees. Many critics argue that the regulations for the maximum noise level allowed before employers are required to provide hearing protection to workers are outdated and far too low. They could be right: the current rules date back to the 1970s, and state that employers who expose workers to noise for eight hours per day above an average of 85 decibels are required to offer free hearing protection and audiometric testing. That’s about as loud as a freight train from 15 meters away. The number jumps to 90 decibels for those in the construction industry, or roughly the noise level of a power mower.
Combatting Hearing Loss
The Department of Labor recently launched a program entitled “Hear and Now” in order to solicit ideas for alerting workers to the danger of high noise levels. However, technology for alerting workers to hazardous levels of noise already exists, so why aren’t companies taking proactive steps to combat this growing problem? Many experts believe the cost of this technology is the biggest factor. While some larger companies have expressed interest, equipping all employees would be a massive expenditure—one that few have taken on to this point.
According to Mark Cullen, “What would really make a difference is to train employers.” Most employers don’t recognize the risks that even moderate levels of noise can have on workers, and thus don’t see the point in investing in this technology as well as the training and enforcement of a noise-hazard policy. However, with better education, employers and business can be made aware of the immense costs of a hearing loss claim, and with tighter regulations, workers everywhere should receive better protection equipment in order to prevent these painful and debilitating injuries.Have you suffered from moderate to severe hearing loss while on the job? Our Fresno workers’ compensation attorneys can help! Call Berry, Smith & Bartell, A Professional Law Corporation today at (800) 848-6288 to request a case evaluation and get the help you need navigating a complex hearing loss claim.