If you work in a very noisy environment and are exposed to high frequencies and great volumes of sound, you are at greater risk of hearing loss. Workers in your situation should wear adequate equipment to keep their hearing safe. Nevertheless, you still are at risk of hearing loss. If you feel uneasy about whether you are eligible for monetary or medical compensation for your hearing loss at work, keep reading to learn more.
What is Occupational Hearing Loss?
Occupational hearing loss (OHL) occurs when an employee is exposed to loud noise or chemicals that can damage the ears (also known as ototoxic chemicals). Other factors may include ear infections. Noise is considered hazardous when it surpasses 85 decibels or higher and other factors include the duration of exposure, the presence of necessary protective equipment, as well as age. Chronic exposure is more likely to produce long-term negative effects.
As of 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act considers partial or total auditory impairment as a disability. The professions that are at greater risk of hearing loss include:
- Manufacturing workers
- Construction workers
- Military personnel
- Workers in the entertainment industry (including musicians, technicians, and sound engineers)
What are the different Levels of Hearing Loss?
As with any other type of disability, the degree of impairment can vary. Hearing loss can be divided into 5 different levels:
- Mild Hearing Loss (26 dB- 40dB): people with this type of impairment usually have trouble recognizing soft and high sounds.
- Moderate Hearing Loss (41dB-55dB): this type of impairment causes difficulties hearing sounds that are under 41dB. Also, some words become more difficult to understand as higher-frequency speech sounds like /f/, /s/, and /th/ become indescribable. Understanding speech with background noise becomes very difficult.
- Moderately-Severe Hearing Loss (56-70dB): Even a usual conversation in a quiet room can be difficult to follow and fully understand unless the other person raises their voice. Sounds that are below the normal conversation level become increasingly difficult to understand.
- Severe Hearing Loss (71dB-90dB): This is where people with hearing impairment start to feel isolated, as a sensory boundary is created. Only very loud speech sounds are recognized. Participating in a group conversation, listening, and following along requires increased amounts of attention and additional effort. Sounds under 71 dB are now outside of the hearing scope for people with this level of hearing loss.
- Profound Hearing Loss (91dB +): Although some really loud noises can still be heard, auditory communication is not possible, even with additional effort. Hearing sounds under 91 dB becomes impossible.
How do I know if my Hearing Loss is Permanent or Temporary?
When considered on the physiological level, a temporary hearing impairment may occur due to an ear infection, excessive buildup of earwax, or sudden exposure to loud noise. If the symptoms of poor hearing continue after a short-term period, you may consider checking with your doctor if you have sustained permanent hearing loss.
Permanent hearing loss is usually attributed to damage to the auditory cells of the inner ear (stereocilia) or the auditory nerve itself.
How do You Prove Hearing Loss?
If you’ve experienced hearing loss following exposure to high levels of noise in the workplace, you may be able to make a hearing loss claim. There are some clear signs of partial or single-sided deafness, which include:
- Having trouble localizing sounds
- Turning the TV or other media up louder
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves
- Tinnitus in one ear
- Favoring one ear over the other in phone conversations
- Having to raise your voice when you’re speaking to a person that is more than 3 feet away from you
Can you Claim Workers’ Comp Benefits for Loss of Hearing at Work?
Hearing loss due to occupational exposure to a high volume of noise is covered by worker’s compensation benefits. However, if you feel uncertain whether you are eligible to receive the benefits, it’s best to first consult your doctor, gather the necessary medical documentation, and prepare them for your first consultation with a specialized workers’ compensation attorney firm. They will be able to give you the necessary advice and help you prove that your hearing loss occurred due to conditions in your workplace. They will also help you appeal the claim if it is denied or speed it up if it’s being postponed for any reason.