Your Job or Your Hearing?
Hearing Loss in the Workplace
Don't accept hearing loss as an inevitable consequence of a particular career or job.
If the most common occupational disease were 100% fixable and avoidable, wouldn't it make sense to eliminate it? Well, it is and we can. With nearly 30 million workers exposed to potentially hazardous noise levels on the jobs, occupational hearing loss is a common (and expensive) problem in the workplace today. According to the World Health Organization, excessive noise is the biggest compensatable occupational hazard in many countries. The lack of urgency and importance associated with hearing loss in the workplace is inexplicable. Perhaps it's because hearing creeps away stealthily, most of the time without extreme pain or obvious physical symptoms. But, the repercussions are much more conspicuous and painful than the insidious process. Once hearing is gone, the damage is irreversible.
The likelihood of hearing loss increases in environments where workers are also exposed to agents such as lead, vibration, carbon monoxide, chemicals and solvents (such as toluene and xylene).
The consequences of work-related hearing loss go beyond an annoying bi-product of employment. Associated problems include:
Although any worker exposed to loud sounds are at risk for hearing loss, there are several high-risk careers, including:
- Compromised quality of life - Hearing loss can lead to isolation, which will impact one's personal and professional life.
- Tinnitus - This sometimes debilitating condition is characterized by a constant ringing, hissing, or other sound in the ears or head when no external sound is present.
- Loss of productivity - Impaired communication can result in a difficult working environment, compromising productivity on a variety of levels. Studies show that noise is the number one contributor to productivity loss in the workplace.
- Work-related accidents - A lack of communication between coworkers can increase the risk of accidents in the workplace. According to data from a National Health Interview survey, workers with hearing impairment show 55% greater risk of accident that those without.
- Economic impact - Work-related hearing loss results in million of dollars a year in workers compensation payouts and hearing aid purchases.
In these high-risk occupations, an average of only 15% of employees use hearing protection, according to NIOSH.
- Sports team coaching
- Concrete work
- Painting/Paper Hanging
If you are an employer:
If you are an employee exposed to loud noise sources:
- Ensure the safety of your workplace and minimize the risk of costly occupational injury by accounting for potential noise hazards in the design phase of your building.
- Make sure your architects and/or designers account for acoustics and do everything they can to reduce possible risks.
- Consider implementing a hearing loss prevention program. The successful hearing conservation program implemented by the U.S. Army reduced hearing loss among active personnel between 1974 and 1994, saving them $504.3 million.
- Establishing your workplace as a safe environment will positively impact your bottom line, reinforce your company's reputation and increase productivity and employee morale.
- FYI…though each state has its own workers' compensation guidelines, reported payouts in 2001 ranged from $9,000 to $150,000 (not including lost wages).
Occupational hearing loss is a serious problem with painful consequences, but damage can be easily avoided. If you haven't been impacted, chances are, someone you know has or will be. Be proactive in approaching this issue to minimize your liability and risk.
- Safeguard yourself with earplugs or earmuffs and request that your employer takes precautionary measures to guard you and your coworkers.
- FYI…the typical worker's compensation for work-related hearing impairment in both ears ranges between $20,850 (in Colorado) and $152,600 (in Iowa) in 1999. That's all! Some states don't even offer compensation for hearing loss!
- Don't wait until it's too late…take precautionary measures now.
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