Posted by HearStore on Jul 31st 2017
Most Common Injury at Work is Hearing Loss
Did you know that hearing loss is the number one most commonly reported occupational injury? According to Center for Disease Control, about 22 million workers in the United States are exposed to unhealthy noise levels at their workplaces.
Although hearing loss probably isn’t what you’d naturally envision when discussing workplace injuries, it is important to know the risks, understand your rights, and what steps you can take if you’ve experienced hearing loss as a workplace injury.
How Loud is Too Loud?
Noise levels are measured in units of sound pressure called decibels. A soft whisper is about 30dBA, while a packed basketball stadium rings in at about 100-120dBA.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has created guidelines regarding safe noise exposure limits for a worker’s 8-hour day. NIOSH asserts that a person is at-risk of excess noise exposure if they are exposed to 85dBA for eight or more hours per day.
To put that into perspective, 85dBA is about as noisy as busy city traffic. As the decibels increase, the amount of time workers can be exposed decreases at dramatic intervals. It only takes an increase of 3dBA for the maximum allowed exposure time to be cut in half.
At just 90dBA – about the sound of a juice blender – only 2 hours and 15 minutes are permitted (in total) each day. Even if you are only exposed to these sound levels for a few minutes each at a time, if it adds up to more than the maximum daily allotment, it is cause for concern.
Am I at Risk?
Workplaces vary greatly when it comes to sound exposure. A good rule of thumb for measure is if you regularly need to shout in order to have a conversation with a co-worker standing only a few feet away from you, you are probably at risk of hearing loss due to excess noise exposure.
Certain industries are more at-risk for hearing hazards than others, with workers in manufacturing being most at risk. In 2007, 82% of cases involving occupational hearing loss were reported amongst workers in this field. Airline controllers, musicians, construction workers, auto mechanics, miners and bartenders are also at higher risk of occupational hearing loss.
If you leave work with a ringing or buzzing in your ears, or experience even temporary hearing loss at the end of a shift, you may have been exposed to noise levels that are damaging to your hearing.
Steps You Can Take to Prevent Occupational Hearing Loss
NIOSH offers a sound meter that you may download to your smartphone. This sound meter measures the volume and decibel of a workplace. If the noise level in your workplace exceeds 85 decibels, and your employer does not provide hearing protection, it is important to request accommodations from human resources.
If your employer does offer ear protection and guidelines, stick to these instructions while on the job. This means wearing your custom ear muffs or ear plugs while on the job. These instruments will protect your hearing from the dangerous sounds on the job.
Accommodations at Work for Hearing Loss
If you already experience a hearing loss, your employer is required by the Americans Disabilities Act to accommodate your hearing needs. Reasonable accommodation for your hearing needs “allow you to match the same performance levels as hearing co-workers in equal positions and enjoy the same benefits/perks of employment available to other employees.” Additionally, the ADA protects you from on-the-job harassment about your hearing loss.
If you are currently on the job market, there are a few things you’ll want to know about how to approach hearing loss and accommodations. When interviewing for a job, you are not required to disclose your hearing loss. Learn more about these protections at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (LINK: https://www.eeoc.gov/).
However, if you require accommodations during your interview, you may request an interpreter or the use of an assistive listening device. Maybe you’ll have brought your own device or just your smartphone – new wireless hearing aids offer the capability to wirelessly stream sounds amplified by the smartphone’s microphone directly to your ears. You may be asked by your potential employer if you are able to respond quickly in a noisy, fast-paced environment, and if you are able to communicate effectively.
These are all important things to consider if you have hearing loss on the job. Depending on the profession, your reaction time and ability to stay connected to your environment is not only crucial to the job, but to your own safety as well. This is why the prescription of hearing aids is so beneficial! They keep you in the loop and assist with your ability to communicate by enhancing speech recognition.
What are My Rights?
You have a right to safe working conditions. Hopefully, if you work in a noisy environment, you’re already familiar with your company’s Hearing Conservation Program. If not, your workplace might be out of compliance with laws implemented by OSHA in 1981.
These guidelines require all employers who expose their workers to noisy environments to follow specific guidelines to keep workers safe. Under your company’s Hearing Conservation Program, your employer should be monitoring occupational noise levels, implement noise-reducing safeguards, and provide employees with training, hearing exams and protective hearing equipment – all free of charge to you.
Talk to your employer about your company’s Hearing Conservation Program and take protective measures on your own such as wearing earplugs and getting regular hearing screenings.
My noisy workplace may have caused hearing loss: What do I do?
Firstly, it is important to get your hearing screened by a non-biased hearing specialist. These professionals will use painless and quick procedures to assess your hearing health and degree of hearing loss.
If it turns out your hearing has been damaged, your hearing specialist may prescribe hearing aids to treat your hearing loss. If you believe your workplace environment is to blame, there are some steps you can take. If your workplace failed to properly warn you of the risk of noise exposure, did not provide training on hearing health, or failed to provide free hearing protection, you may have a claim to worker’s compensation or even a personal injury case.
As always, prevention is always the best bet against occupational hearing loss. Assess decibel levels in your workplace. There are apps which can be purchased for free that measure decibels. If you are concerned about noises at work, ask your employer or invest in hearing protection, your hearing will thank you!