Many jobs are accompanied by known risks. Firemen understand the possibility of burns, construction workers know the danger associated with heavy equipment, and miners are aware of the risks of cave-ins and poisonous gas. One hazard these workers and those in many other jobs often fail to recognize, however, is occupational hearing loss.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, hearing loss is one of the most commonly occurring occupational illnesses in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 22 million American workers are exposed to hazardous noise every year, and nearly a quarter of hearing problems among those in the workforce are job-related.
For such a widespread problem, occupational hearing loss receives little attention.
What Is Occupational Hearing Loss?
Occupational hearing loss is damage to the inner ear due to the noise or vibrations from some jobs. Conditions in the workplace can cause this damage, whether through exposure over time or some type of sudden trauma.
While the main symptom is hearing loss, accompanying issues can include tinnitus, dizziness, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and trouble concentrating. Most cases of occupational hearing loss occur gradually over time and display no obvious physical changes, which can make it difficult to recognize as it is happening.
In some cases, short-term exposure can result in short-term loss. The employee can regain hearing after a period of rest. In many other cases, however, the hearing loss is permanent. This may not mean that an employee becomes deaf, though that is sometimes the case. The severity of the hearing loss can vary, and even slight loss can still affect a worker’s life significantly.
Many Different Types of Noises Can Cause Occupational Hearing Loss
Exposure to all different types of noise and sounds can result in permanent hearing loss. Some of these sounds are more obvious, such as the noise from a jackhammer or the roar of heavy machinery. But even softer sounds, if still above certain levels, can damage the ear.
Noise is measured in decibels, which monitors both the loudness and strength of the vibrations cause by sound. Any sound above 80 decibels can cause harm, and experts suggest the use of ear protection at 85 decibels, especially if the exposure will be prolonged. To better understand the level of noise, some common sounds measure at:
- 80dB: heavy traffic
- 90 dB: a vacuum or a food blender
- 100 dB: a rock concert or a sporting event
- 120 dB: an ambulance siren or a thunderclap
- 130 dB: a shot from a rifle
Other sounds can have various levels depending on different factors. Earbuds, car stereos, various construction sounds, concerts, and fireworks can all create a range of decibels, many of which can be damaging. Hearing loss can happen over the course of any job, but the most common occupations at risk for hearing damage include:
- Construction workers
- Ambulance drivers
- Air traffic controllers
- Sanitation workers
How to Protect Yourself From Work-Related Hearing Loss
As previously mentioned, hearing loss often happens gradually, and the worker may not realize damage is being done until it is too late. Often, the first sign that alerts a person to hearing loss is difficulty hearing another speak. Too many times, irreparable damage has already been by that time.
To protect yourself from occupational hearing loss, it is a good idea to:
- Wear ear protection.
- Get your hearing checked regularly.
- Talk with your employer about workplace noise.
Employers Have Certain Responsibilities to Help Protect Employees
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers take steps to help prevent occupational hearing loss among employees. Some of those mandates include:
- Employers must monitor noise levels to accurately identify those employees are exposed to noise over 85 dB.
- Employers must repeat or adapt monitoring if there are any changes in production, process, or controls that could affect noise levels.
- Employers must establish and utilize an audiometric testing program to help monitor the hearing of employees.
- Employers must fit (or re-fit) employees with hearing protectors and show the employee how to use them properly.
Occupational Hearing Loss Can Be Covered Under Iowa Workers’ Compensation
Hearing loss is a serious issue that can have significant and long-lasting consequences for an employee. It can prevent an employee from being able to perform both work duties and daily activities, and it is covered by Iowa’s workers’ compensation laws.
Although the workers’ compensation statute is complicated, in general, an employee must file for benefits due to hearing loss within one month after separating from employment. That separation can occur due to retirement, termination of employment, or transfer of employment from the excessive noise exposure. Workers’ compensation claims are time-sensitive, so it important to seek legal advice and file a claim as quickly as possible.
If you or someone you love has suffered hearing loss due to excessive noise on the job, you may be eligible to receive medical care and wage replacement through Iowa workers’ compensation. Call the experienced attorneys at the Pothitakis Law Firm, P.C., at 1-888-488-7485 to learn more about how our legal team can help.