According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 20,000 people each year suffer hearing loss due to workplace noise exposure. Sadly, hearing lost due to noise often cannot be restored or even be assisted with hearing aids. As an employee in an industry where loud noises are the norm, you have the right to have your hearing protected by your employer. If you have suffered hearing loss due to an employer’s negligence, you may have grounds for a workers’ compensation claim.
How Much Noise is too Much?
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) defines very clear rules regarding noise levels and exposure time. Essentially, the louder your workplace, the shorter your shifts should be.
OSHA’s standard for acceptable noise level experienced during an eight-hour work day falls between a standard household vacuum and a large industrial truck. As the sound level rises, the shifts should grow shorter. By the time environmental noise reaches the level of a loud dance club, employers should either take precautions to reduce employee exposure or limit shifts to no more than two hours.
Tinnitus – Ringing in the Ears
The most common symptom of noise -related hearing loss is ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus. Although this symptom does occasionally arise for unrelated reasons, its most common cause is noise exposure. In most cases, ringing in your ears indicates that you have already begun to suffer some level of hearing loss. If you are subjected to loud sounds at work and your doctor confirms that noise is the cause of your tinnitus, you may have grounds for a workers compensation claim.
Additional Effects of Noise Exposure
Hearing loss isn’t the only risk in a noisy workplace. Repeated exposure to intense, loud sounds has been shown to cause both blood pressure and sleep issues. Those exposed to extreme noise are more likely to have workplace accidents, and experience significantly higher stress levels.
When the sounds are sudden and unexpected, those exposed may even experience psychological trauma.
Precautions against Occupational Noise Exposure
When shorter shifts aren’t an option, your employer can take other steps to protect your hearing and prevent the need for a workers’ compensation claim. Although each state’s laws may be slightly different, in general you should be provided with noise canceling devices such as headphones to protect your hearing in high-risk atmospheres. Construction and demolition workers, specifically, should always be provided with these devices.
OSHA also recommends regular testing of the noise level and hearing capabilities of employees in high-risk environments. If you feel your employer is not taking the proper precautions, contact your local OSHA office.
If you’ve suffered hearing loss as a result of an employer’s negligence, a workers’ compensation attorney may be able to help you get restitution.