A work injury is a personal injury that occurs during a person’s employment. Typically, the injury, also called a workplace injury, is caused by an individual’s job task 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 workers’ compensation rules are very different from other personal injury matters.
What is Occupational Hearing Loss?
Occupational hearing loss is hearing loss that occurs directly from a specific type of employment. More than 20,000 cases of loss of hearing due to employment conditions are reported each year. This number makes up almost 15% of reported occupational illnesses every year. Of the 20,0000 people who work in manufacturing who reported cases in a given year, occupational hearing loss makes up about 80% of them.
Occupational or industrial deafness is a type of hearing loss caused by equipment noise exceeding a specific decibel level. Extremely loud noise can cause permanent damage to the worker’s ears. The damage is sustained in the inner ear.
How Does Industrial Deafness Occur?
This particular workplace injury can happen in two ways. The first way it can happen is by 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 are to 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:
- 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 are put in jeopardy when an employee suffers hearing impairment due to 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 familiar with employment regulations and laws.
What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss at Work?
If you are unsure whether your hearing has been damaged at work, signs of impairment include:
- Hearing a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears (tinnitus)
- Having to shout at coworkers, even at close distances
- Experiencing temporary hearing loss
Hearing loss is a debilitating issue that can be prevented with proper precautions. Hearing loss may not happen because of a one-time event. In many cases, hearing loss happens gradually due to exposure to loud noises over several years.
How Can I Protect Myself From Hearing Loss?
First, monitor the volume level around you. According to OSHA, workers should only be exposed to a maximum average sound level of 85 decibels during an eight-hour shift. For each five decibel increase above 85 decibels, the maximum exposure time should be cut in half. Exposure to sounds over 85 decibels for extended periods of time can cause permanent hearing loss. Power tools, lawnmowers, and jackhammers all operate over 85 decibels.
Proper hearing protection should be worn whenever noise levels are above 85 decibels. Proper hearing protection can include earplugs, ear muffs, and customizable protective devices.
Check your hearing annually. A comprehensive hearing exam can provide baseline reports about where your hearing is. A hearing exam can track any changes in your hearing, as well. If you work in a noisy occupation, it’s especially important to monitor any changes in your hearing to prevent permanent damage.
Does Worker’s Compensation Cover Occupational Hearing Loss?
A new employee should have a hearing test administered by the company before starting a job where constant noise exposure is an essential part of the position. If the employee can prove that the hearing loss occurred as a sole and direct result of the employment conditions, worker’s compensation can cover the occupational hearing loss.
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 obtain workers’ compensation for this type of injury. Workers’ compensation covers 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 employers must 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 like chainsaws, bulldozers, jackhammers, or lawnmowers. This can help the company chart the hearing loss, which may help defend 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. You may also be covered by certain health and safety laws depending on your employment situation. 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
- 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 have occupational deafness, you need to talk to an workers compensation lawyer. A lawyer will help you pursue a worker’s compensation claim to reimburse you for your work-related hearing injury.
Use LegalMatch’s services today to find the right lawyer in your area. Our services are completely confidential, and there is no fee to schedule a consultation.