Numerous occupations pose devastating risks for employees. Some workers face bodily harm such as broken bones and head trauma while other workers face accumulated damage such as toxic exposure and repetitive stress. Often, however, a work environment will directly threaten an employee’s senses.
Whether it is the consistent drone of heavy machinery running over the course of a shift or the sudden explosion of sound associated with construction equipment, employees in numerous industries face hearing loss from many sources. While some workers might feel this is simply an annoyance, the statistics regarding workplace hearing loss are truly staggering. In fact:
- The CDC has estimated that nearly a quarter (24%) of hearing loss in the United States could be attributed to noise exposure in the workplace.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has estimated that more than 20,000 workplace hearing loss cases are reported annually. Many of these cases result in permanent hearing loss.
Medical professionals generally trace occupational hearing loss to two factors:
- Ototoxicants: Job responsibilities force workers in countless occupations to work with dangerous chemicals. While the hazards of some chemicals are well known, exposure to other chemicals, however, can have consequences hidden over time. Ototoxicants are a class of chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested. These chemicals can travel the blood stream and cause injuries to numerous parts of the ear leading to hearing loss. Chemists classify certain solvents, asphyxiants, nitriles, metals and compounds as ototoxicants.
- Noise exposure: Exposure to excessive noise levels in the workplace can cause hearing loss. Various occupations such as working at a sporting venue, operating a jackhammer or directing traffic on a tarmac pose numerous threats of hearing loss. Employers must provide education and personal protective gear to minimize an employee’s exposure to excessive noise levels.
Occupational hearing loss is a common occurrence in numerous occupations throughout the United States. Workers often experience a ringing in the ears, an audible humming sensation or even temporary hearing loss after leaving their shift. At the first sign of trouble, a worker must take steps to protect his or her hearing and seek workers’ compensation benefits while attempting to heal from the damage.