Montgomery & Bucks County Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hearing Loss at Work: More Common Than You Think

What is the most common work-related injury?

Last month, we wrote about the connection between occupational hearing loss and heart damage. This is a compelling issue, especially in light of a report released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrating that hearing loss is the most common work-related injury.

The CDC study found the potential for occupational hearing loss is far reaching; in fact, 22 million or so workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise in the workplace each year. The most dangerous occupations in this regard are mining, construction and manufacturing. Not only is hazardous noise the cause of hearing injuries, it is also a financial burden for all concerned. The Department of Labor reportedly spends $242 million per year on workers compensation for hearing loss disability.

What is the "Hear and Now" project?

In an effort to reduce the number of these claims, the Labor Department kicked off its "Hear and Now" project over the summer to solicit ideas and technology to mitigate the risks of hazardous noise for workers. That being said, technology is currently available that can reduce hearing injuries, and many observers argue that the government's noise level standards requiring employers to provide sound protection gear is too low.

OSHA Protections

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has long had regulations in place to protect workers in certain industries from high noise exposure. Now, OSHA is stepping up its efforts to ensure companies are complying with these rules, particularly in the construction industry. The agency may also need to consider updating these rules, especially in light of the fact that they were established decades ago.

Toward a Safer Workplace

Regardless of the steps OSHA may take to protect workers with stricter noise standards, the onus is on employers to educate workers about the perils of high noise exposure. Companies should also provide protective gear when appropriate and to train workers on how to use it correctly. There are other steps businesses can take, such as building sound barrier walls and utilizing power equipment that is quieter. In this regard, the CDC has a "Buy Quiet" campaign that is designed to encourage companies to invest in quieter tools and machinery.

The Takeaway

At this juncture, it remains to be seen what steps OSHA will take to update rules regarding hazardous noise levels in the workplace, not only in the construction industry but in other industries in which hearing injuries are common. In the meantime, if you have suffered an occupational hearing injury, you may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits.

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