Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition reported by adults in America. While some of these instances are the natural consequences of aging, the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) attributes at least 24 percent of hearing loss cases to occupational injuries and exposure. Over 22 million workers could be damaging their hearing on the job every day.
Hearing loss on any level can significantly decrease a person’s quality of life and put workers at an increased risk for work-related injuries. Occupational hearing loss is often seen in high-risk industries with elevated levels of noise and chemical exposure. When these workers cannot detect audible hazards or safely communicate with coworkers, catastrophic and fatal accidents can occur.
At Siler & Ingber, our team has seen firsthand the devastation and global implications a hearing impairment can have on workers and their families. Employers and site managers have an obligation to protect everyone’s hearing on the job site and limit exposure to hazards that could harm workers. If you or a loved one has sustained a hearing impairment due to a work accident or occupational hazard, these are the facts you need to know.
Workers Most At Risk
Past studies have found that construction and manufacturing jobs pose some of the highest risks for hearing loss compared to any other industries. According to a ten-year study by the C.D.C., mining was the only other industry resulting in a higher prevalence.
In a report published by the Center for Construction Research and Training, specific jobs across these industries with the highest number of hearing-related injuries include:
- Sheet metal workers;
- Brick masons;
- Operating engineer;
- Truck drivers;
- General laborers; and
- Roofers and insulation workers.
Common Causes of Occupational Hearing Loss
As defined by Mayo Clinic, hearing loss occurs when damage is sustained to the inner hairs, nerve cells, or the inner ear and eardrum. For workers exposed to construction and manufacturing work, hearing loss generally occurs from expose to elevated noise levels, ototoxic chemicals, or physical trauma caused by a direct hit to the ear. Both of these factors can lead to multiple levels of hearing loss when exceeding healthy levels.
Noise exposure is the leading cause of hearing loss in the construction industry. In 2017, the C.D.C reported that nearly 50 percent of construction workers were classified as working in environments with noise levels exceeding the healthy amount. In these instances, even hearing protection will not be effective in preventing hearing loss or injuries.
When the ears are exposed to elevated levels of noises, particularly sudden loud blasts, the sudden pressure change can cause the eardrum to rupture. Long-term exposure to loud noises can also result in hearing loss involving gradual damage to the inner ear cells.
Worksites are expected to monitor the levels of noise exposure by adhering to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (O.S.H.A.) standards. Employers who work in high-risk industries for hearing loss must implement a hearing conservation program with noise exposure at or below 85 decibels for no longer than eight hours a day. This level is equivalent to the sound that resonates from heavy traffic, an air conditioner, or a power lawnmower.
At least 10 million workers in the United States are exposed to ototoxic chemicals at work that could lead to hearing loss. Ototoxic chemicals are substances classified as neurotoxicants, cochleotoxicants, or vestibulotoxicants that are poisonous to the ear when exposed. O.S.H.A. studies have shown these products can damage the inner ear and the neurological pathways leading to occupational hearing loss.
Ototoxic chemicals commonly found in construction include solvents, metals, nitriles, asphyxiants, and pharmaceuticals. These chemicals can make workers even more susceptible to loud noises, posing a higher risk for hearing damage if both hazards are present on the job.
Occupational accidents that involve a strike or blow to the head can also result in hearing loss. According to The Center For ENT, hearing loss is a common symptom reported by individuals diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions. Medical experts report that concussion victims often show signs of damage to the bones in the middle ear, inner ear, and cochlea after head trauma. Additionally, severe injuries can result in damages to the receptors that lead to the brain that allow us to interrupt and process sound.
Construction and manufacturing employees work with heavy machinery and tools that can cause significant injury to the ears when striking a worker directly in the head. Common accidents that occur on worksites leading to trauma-related hearing loss include debris falling from the top of structures, flying tools, forklift accidents, beam accidents, or head injuries caused by fall hazards.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Signs of hearing loss may vary depending on the type of damage a worker experiences. Some hearing impairments begin small and gradually become worse over time. Impairments related to injuries or trauma typically result in instant damage.
Signs workers should be looking out for to indicate occupational hearing loss include:
- Difficulty understanding others in noisy environments;
- Difficulty understanding others in quiet environments or over the phone;
- Muffled speech;
- Consistent ringing in the ears (daily or weekly);
- Trouble hearing consonants;
- Requiring high volume levels on T.V. and radio; and
- The need to withdraw from conversations.
Six Stages of Occupation Hearing Loss
Workers diagnosed with occupational hearing loss can experience a range of symptoms depending on the severity of the damage. The C.D.C. categorizes hearing loss into six different stages to illustrate levels of impairment:
- Stage 1 (Mild)– difficulty understanding and hearing people talk in a noisy place with occasional ringing in the ears.
- Stage 2 (Moderate)– difficulty understanding and hearing people talk in a quiet place or on the phone with frequent ringing in ears lasting for five minutes.
- Stage 3 (Moderately Severe)– difficulty understanding and hearing people talk in a quiet place or on the phone without a hearing device with daily ringing in the ear for at least five minutes.
- Stage 4 (Severe)– inability to hear others talking and difficulty communicating or relating to others with continuous daily ringing in the ear for at least five minutes.
- Stage 5 (Profound)-difficulty hearing people talking in any situation with continuous daily ringing in the ears for more than five minutes multiple times a day.
- Stage 6 (Complete)- inability to hear even the loudest sounds with continuous ringing in the ears.
How to Protect Workers
Employers and site managers are obligated to follow all O.S.H.A. standards to protect their workers from preventable hearing loss associated with occupational hazards. This responsibility includes providing safety training and equipment needed to keep workers safe, in addition to completing the tests necessary to determine the appropriate level of protection required in each area of the workplace.
Other safety measures outlined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (N.I.O.S.H.) that employers should be utilizing include:
- Elimination: Employers should be making every effort to eliminate the equipment, chemicals, and tasks that pose a high risk for hearing loss.
- Substitution: Tasks that cannot be eliminated should be substituted with less hazardous equipment. This could include a quieter, more efficient machine or a chemical with lower ototoxic properties.
- Create Barriers: Using engineering controls and remote options for operating noisy machinery, or barriers when working with ototoxic chemicals, can significantly reduce a worker’s exposure to hearing hazards.
- Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.): Ear protection should be worn at all times when working with hazardous equipment and materials. To determine the appropriate level of protection, employers should be utilizing noise and hazard testing to identify the level of risk for each task a worker is expected to complete.
- Training: Some hearing loss occurs when workers are unaware of how to reduce their risk. Employers should be conducting frequent training on the importance of hearing protection and provide resources for workers to know how to stay safe.
Occupational hearing loss can significantly reduce a worker’s quality of life. Employers and site managers are responsible for putting in place the safety measures needed to protect workers from preventable harm. When these safety measures are neglected, these parties can be held accountable for damages a worker incurs.
New York City Long Island Work Accident Attorneys
Our personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Siler & Ingber, have over 20 years of experience serving clients across New York City and Long Island. We protect your rights by maximizing recovery and securing our clients financial support to succeed on their road to recovery. Our winning attorneys know how to navigate through the claim process using past experience as insurance defense attorneys. We are not afraid to fight and are fully prepared to take your case to trial to get a justified verdict over settling for less.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident due to the negligence of an Uber driver, our team at Siler & Ingber is here to help. With a 98% success rate, we have the experience and the know-how to help our clients achieve a favorable outcome. Contact us today at 1-877-529-4343 or schedule an appointment online anytime. We never charge a fee unless we recover money for you.