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What Is Occupational Deafness?

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What is a Work Injury?

A work injury is a type of personal injury that occurs during a person’s employment. Typically, the injury, also called a workplace injury, is caused by a job task an individual is required to do while working. An employee injured on the job is guaranteed benefits regardless of who was at fault. In return for workers' compensation benefits, employees usually forfeit the right to sue their employer in court for damages for their injuries. The rules regarding workers' compensation are very different than for other personal injury matters.

What is Occupational Hearing Loss?

Occupational hearing loss is hearing loss that occurs as a direct result of a specific type of employment. More than 20,000 cases of loss of hearing due to employment conditions are reported each year, and this number makes up almost 15% of reported occupational illnesses in any year. Of the 20,0000 people who work in manufacturing report reported cases in a given year, about 80% of them.
Occupational, or industrial, deafness is a type of hearing loss is caused equipment noise that far exceeds a specific decibel level. This extremely loud noise can cause permanent damage to the worker’s ears. The damage is sustained in the inner ear.

How Does the Industrial Deafness Occur?

This particular workplace injury can happen in two ways. The first way that it can happen is working around loud equipment for a prolonged period of time. The prolonged exposure to the noises causes one to go deaf. The second way it occurs is called acoustic shock. Acoustic shock happens when an individual suddenly hears loud noise over a specific decibel level. The sudden loud noise causes immediate permanent hearing loss.

Does Industrial Deafness Always Cause Permanent Hearing Loss?

No. Although permanent deafness is a common result of occupational deafness, a worker can also experience:

  • Hearing loss in one ear
  • A ringing or buzzing sound in the ears
  • Hearing that frequently goes in and out
  • Difficulty properly hearing sounds because of background noise

What Decibel Level Can Cause Occupational Deafness?

Sounds higher than 80 decibels can be loud enough to cause damage to the inner ear. The longer the sound is, the more likely damages would be caused. 

What Jobs Have a High Risk of Industrial Deafness?

Workers in the following jobs have a high risk of developing this work-related injury:

  • Musicians
  • Farmers
  • Construction Workers
  • Airline ground maintenance crew
  • Working with loud machinery, especially in factories where the sound can be amplified

What Can I Do If My Hearing Has Been Affected At Work?

Work-related hearing loss is a major employment concern. Personal safety and health is put in jeopardy when an employee suffers hearing impairment as a result of his performance on the job. Bringing your concerns to the attention of your co-workers, union, or employer may lead to hearing loss prevention programs in your workplace or improved work conditions. If the situation remains unchanged and problematic, you should consider talking with an attorney who is familiar with employment regulations and laws.

Is Occupational Hearing Loss Covered by Worker’s Compensation?

A new employee should have a hearing test administered by the company, prior to starting a job where constant exposure to noise is an essential part of the position. But if the employee can prove that the hearing loss occurred as a sole and direct result of the employment conditions, occupational hearing loss can be covered by worker’s compensation. But there is a lot a company can do to protect against these kinds of claims.

Before filing an occupational hearing loss claim, it is important to understand the difference between a worker’s compensation claim and a personal injury claim. A personal injury claim is based on neglect and will seek damages, while a worker’s compensation claim doesn’t have to assign fault to be successful.

Can I Obtain Workers Compensation for My Injury?

You may be able to obtain workers compensation for this type of injury. Workers compensation is available to cover work-related injuries such as occupational deafness in exchange for employees giving up their right to sue in civil court.

A disability claim can be filed for years after leaving the company, so it is important that employers hold on to the audiogram records, or hearing test records, of all current and former employees, including those who have left the company.

Audiograms should be conducted yearly when employees are regularly exposed to potentially damaging sounds such as chainsaws, bulldozers, jackhammers, or lawnmowers. This can help the company chart the hearing loss, which may be helpful in defending against an occupational hearing loss claim.

Can My Employer Be Held Responsible For My Hearing Loss?

In some cases, your hearing loss or damage may be covered by workers compensation. Depending on your employment situation, you may also be covered by certain health and safety laws. For example, certain workers are entitled to hearing protection under the following federal regulations:

  • The 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, which ensures safety in the workplace and encourages continual improvements in employee safety and health;
  • The January 2005 Supplement to the Longshore & Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, which provides medical benefits, compensation for lost wages, and rehabilitation services to employees who are injured during the course of employment; and
  • The 1908 Federal Employers Liability Act, which encourages railroad companies to enact and enforce strict safety regulations to protect workers from injuries such as hearing loss.

What Damages are Available If I Win a Workers Compensation Claim?

Workers' compensation benefits typically include:

  • Replacement income
  • Medical expenses
  • Rehabilitation
  • Long-term or lump sum pension if you are permanently unable to work
  • Temporary disability pension while you are unable to work

Should I Talk to a Lawyer about Occupational Deafness?

If you are suffering from occupational deafness, you need to talk to an employment lawyer. A lawyer will help you with pursuing a worker’s compensation claim to reimburse you for your work-related hearing injury.

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 10-09-2017 03:52 PM PDT

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