When it comes to work injuries, hearing loss is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. However, certain types of environments and jobs in Alabama make it more likely for workers to experience work-related hearing loss.
Depending on the level of the damage, workers may want to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits as they seek treatment and adjust to this often life-changing condition.
Statistics on hearing loss in the workplace
Hearing loss affects millions of workers across the U.S., with about 12% reporting that they have trouble hearing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 22 million workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels at work every year, and as many as 53% of them admit to not using hearing protection.
Additionally, tinnitus, which is a phantom ringing, whistling, hissing or chirping sound in the ear that often accompanies hearing loss, affects approximately 8% of all workers.
What are the signs of hearing loss?
Being exposed to dangerously loud noises on a regular basis can cause gradual hearing loss. However, even being exposed to excessive noise for short periods of time can negatively impact your hearing.
There are certain signs and symptoms you should look out for that may indicate hearing loss. They include:
- People’s voices and other noises seem muffled.
- You have difficulty hearing high-pitched noises.
- You have trouble following conversations in a crowded or noisy environment.
- You’ve developed a hypersensitivity to some sounds that may even cause pain in the ears.
- You have difficulty deciphering consonants, such as the difference between s and f, p and t, or sh and th, when someone is speaking.
- You regularly have to ask other people to speak more clearly and slowly.
- You regularly have to ask others to speak louder or to repeat what they say.
- You have to raise the volume on the TV or while listening to music.
- You have difficulty understanding speech while on the phone.
- You have ringing in your ears (tinnitus).
All of these symptoms or any combination of them signify that you might have hearing loss. It’s important to seek medical attention from an ENT doctor or audiologist to determine a cause and prevent further damage.
What typically causes hearing loss at work?
Also known as occupational hearing loss, a hearing loss workplace injury can be caused in different ways.
One obvious way a worker can be impacted is when they’re regularly exposed to hazardous levels of noise. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), noise levels as low as 90 A-weighted decibels (dBA) can be dangerous if workers are exposed to them for more than 8 hours at a time. As a point of reference, 85 decibels is roughly the noise level of a blender.
Certain chemicals and solvents
Another way that hearing loss can occur at work is through exposure to certain chemicals and solvents, including mercury, lead, pesticides, carbon monoxide, and methyl cyanoacrylate, which is a compound used in super glue and rubber.
This chemical exposure can affect different parts of the ear and is considered ototoxic. If a worker is exposed on a regular basis, it can lead to sensitivity and hearing loss. Approximately 10 million workers suffer this type of work-related hearing loss due to exposure to solvents and other substances.
Unfortunately, occupational hearing loss can cause serious damage to the point where a person’s everyday life is significantly impacted. In some cases, hearing loss cannot be reversed or even treated. Some workers might not be able to continue working, which can cause hardship for them and their families.
What noise level is considered hazardous at work?
Any noise level above 90 decibels for more than 8 hours is considered hazardous according to OSHA, but the more the noise level increases, the quicker it becomes dangerous. For example, a noise level of 100 decibels, which is roughly equivalent to a motorcycle engine running, is dangerous after just 2 hours of exposure.
Which industries commonly put workers at risk for hearing loss?
Many industries have hazards that can lead to occupational hearing loss if safety precautions aren’t implemented and utilized. Workers most at risk of hearing loss include the following:
- Airport workers
- Railroad workers
- Construction workers
- EMTs and first responders
- Farm workers
- Factory workers
- Musicians and workers at music venues or nightclubs
Surprisingly, even some jobs in the healthcare industry involve continuous noise exposure and can damage workers’ hearing over time.
Can I get workers’ compensation benefits for hearing loss?
Yes, Alabama workers can get workers’ compensation benefits for job-related hearing loss. In most cases, as long as a worker can prove there is a direct link between their healing loss and their job, they should be able to file a claim to recover benefits.
Which Alabama workers qualify for benefits?
Alabama requires most employers with 5 or more regular employees to carry workers’ compensation insurance that covers both one-time accidents and occupational diseases (like hearing loss) that workers experience on the job.
To qualify for benefits, you must be classified as an employee. Independent contractors, farm workers, domestic employees (like housekeepers) and workers who build single-family, detached residential homes generally do not qualify for workers’ comp benefits.
What types of benefits are workers entitled to?
Workers who suffer job-related hearing loss can recover certain benefits. Your hearing loss doesn’t necessarily have to be permanent or profound in order for you to be eligible.
In general, workers can recover the following types of benefits:
- Medical benefits. These cover the costs of all necessary medical care and treatment, including doctor appointments, surgeries, medications, rehabilitation, and equipment like hearing aids.
- Lost wage benefits. These provide workers with two-thirds of their average weekly wage if an injury or illness prevents them from working. The amount of time workers can receive these benefits depends on their assigned disability.
- Death benefits. These benefits are available to certain dependents if a worker dies from an on-the-job injury or illness.
What steps do Alabama workers need to take to file a claim for workers’ comp?
Workers who suffer hearing loss on the job must take certain steps when planning to file a workers’ compensation claim. They include the following:
- Seek medical attention. Seek out treatment and a diagnosis from an employer-approved doctor as soon as possible to prevent your hearing loss from getting worse and to establish a link between your hearing loss and your job.
- Notify your employer of the injury. In most cases, you should notify your employer within 5 days of realizing you’ve suffered work-related hearing loss or receiving a diagnosis. In some cases, that deadline can be extended, but it’s best to provide notification as soon as possible so you don’t miss your chance at compensation.
- Employer files a report. It’s your employer’s responsibility to file a First Report of Injury Form on your behalf with their workers’ comp insurer after you notify them of your injury. After they review your claim, the insurer will either approve or deny it.
- Contact an attorney. If your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal, but you should contact a skilled work injury attorney for help with the process to ensure your rights are protected.
How can occupational hearing loss be prevented?
There are steps that can be taken to prevent hearing loss at work:
- Employers should conduct regular noise assessments and monitor the levels of hazardous chemicals in the work environment to help identify potential risks and allow for timely intervention.
- Workers exposed to high levels of noise should use appropriate hearing protection devices and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as earplugs or earmuffs, ensuring their proper use and maintenance.
- Workers exposed to toxic chemicals should limit their exposure and take breaks when possible, as well as have their hearing tested each year to monitor any changes.
Contact an experienced Alabama workers’ compensation attorney
Workers’ compensation claims can be complicated, especially when your injury occurs slowly over time. Working with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can greatly increase your chance of a successful claim. Your attorney can help you gather evidence and connect you with medical experts who can testify on your behalf if necessary. They can also negotiate with your employer and their insurance company to ensure you get maximum compensation.
If you’ve suffered hearing loss at work in the Birmingham area, contact the experienced work injury attorneys at Nomberg Law Firm. Our attorneys have extensive experience fighting for injured Alabama workers to get them the money they deserve. Let us handle the negotiations with your employer and their insurer so you can focus on healing.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.