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Suffering in silence: Hearing loss on the job

If you had to guess what the most common workplace injury is, what would you say? Back strain? Broken bones? Head injury? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the surprising answer is hearing loss. CDC data shows that about 22 million people are exposed to dangerous levels of noise on the job each year. Those industries experiencing the highest number of workers suffering hearing damage include:

  • Mining
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that workers' compensation pays hundreds of millions of dollars each year in claims for hearing loss. If you are suffering hearing loss because of the noise levels at work, you may be eligible for compensation.

Obsolete regulations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires your boss to provide hearing protection and audiometric testing when you are exposed to an average of 85 decibels for eight hours a day. For construction workers, the decibel limit is 90. These regulations have been in place since the 1970s.

However, outdated OSHA regulations do not account for the levels to which everyday noise has increased in the past 30 years. So, while you may be wearing some sound protection on the job, it is probably not enough to prevent hearing loss, especially when workplace noise is added to the clamor of sporting events, concerts and even restaurants.

Current protections for your hearing

OSHA is currently reviewing its policies for hearing protection and may revise its regulations soon. Meanwhile, some ways your boss can protect your hearing and that of your co-workers may include:

  • Educate you and your co-workers of the risks of removing protective gear
  • Build barriers between noise and workers
  • Replace noisy equipment or investigate ways to modify the noise factor
  • Invest in new technology that alerts you when noise reaches a dangerous level

Your manager or employer may not be aware that it doesn't always take extremely high decibels to damage your hearing. In fact, university studies show that workers who are most vulnerable to losing their hearing are those who work in environments exposing them to moderate levels of noise since those workers are likely to be less diligent about wearing their ear protection.

Claiming benefits you deserve

Along with loss of hearing, exposure to noise can produce debilitating headaches, dizziness and other symptoms that may make it impossible for you to continue working. While no amount of compensation can replace something as precious as your hearing, you certainly want to find the best treatment to relieve you of the pain and discomfort that often accompanies workplace hearing loss.

You may find that seeking compensation -- either through workers' compensation or through Social Security Disability - is difficult, especially since hearing loss is not considered a disabling disease by Social Security. A skilled lawyer will know how to navigate the complicated channels of these agencies to seek relief for you. Obtaining the assistance of a dedicated attorney will provide you with an advocate who will fight for the maximum compensation you deserve.

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