When you think of workplace hazards, you mind might turn to things like fall risks, electrocutions and similar factors. One that people don’t usually think about is noise. Hearing loss is the third most common physical condition classified as chronic in this country. Arthritis and high blood pressure are the only conditions that are more prevalent.
More than 11% of people who work in this country have trouble hearing. Around one-fourth of hearing loss cases are related to working conditions. These cases are preventable if the employees have the proper ear protections, but noise isn’t the only risk for hearing loss.
Causes of work-related hearing loss
Exposure to very loud noises, such as explosions, can lead to hearing loss. Even when the noise isn’t very loud, there is still a risk. A person who is exposed to noises that register at 85 decibels or higher is at risk of hearing impairment. Around 17% of workers, which equates to approximately 22 million people per year, are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace.
Ototoxic chemicals and certain solvents can also lead to hearing loss. Some of these are known, but there are some that likely haven’t been tied to hearing loss that do have this impact.
Preventing work-related hearing loss
Employers should take steps to reduce risk factors that can lead to hearing loss. When there is inevitable noise, hearing protection is critical. This might be from foam plugs or over-the-ear hearing protection. If the noise is coming from something that can be separated from the workers, barriers can reduce the noise the employees are subjected to.
Employees must undergo training on how to use the hearing protection devices that are part of safety protocol. The plan for keeping hearing loss to a minimum should be readily available to all workers in the facility so that everyone knows what steps to take.
Long-term outlook for hearing loss
Sadly, most work-related hearing loss is a life-long condition. This can make it difficult to live a normal life because of the ways that the muted hearing impacts the person. Communication with others can become difficult. Some people suffer from tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, which can be a source of frustration. An inability to hear voices, listen to music, or hear warning signals can all lead to loss of enjoyment of life.
Workers who suffer from work-related hearing loss might need to seek workers’ compensation to help cover the medical costs of the condition. They may also qualify for other facets of the program, including partial wage replacement or vocational rehabilitation.