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Published: September, 2012; Vol 9, Num 4

 

Occupational Hearing Loss Easy to Overlook

When a Laborer becomes injured from working on the job, workers' compensation can often help with medical costs and lost wages. However, if the Laborer has occupational hearing loss, it’s another story. Because this illness can take years to develop, documentation of the hazardous exposures that caused it – a workers' compensation claim prerequisite – is rarely possible. More often than not, Laborers and others who have occupational hearing loss are on their own.

Protect Your Hearing
With Help from the LHSFNA

The Laborers’ Guide to Hearing Loss Prevention in Construction, Noise and Your Job and Task-Based Hearing Loss Prevention are among assorted materials from the LHSFNA that can help in the prevention of occupational hearing loss. They can be ordered through the Fund’s Publications Catalogue.

The LHSFNA also provides a list of noise resource links.

Occupational hearing loss is usually the result of repeated exposure to excessive noise – sound levels greater than 85 decibels. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety Health (NIOSH), 5.7 million American workers – a quarter of all workers exposed to noise on the job – are exposed to noise that is hazardous. However, as confirmed in a new study on occupational hearing loss from the University of Michigan School of Nursing, because the damage is gradual, workers in the early stages of occupational hearing loss are often unaware of their problem. The study of 2,691 workers at a Midwest automobile factory found that the majority – 76 percent – believed their hearing was either “excellent” or “good” when in fact, 42 percent had hearing loss. This was despite the fact that their employer was in compliance with OSHA regulations and had a hearing conservation program with audiometric testing in place.

Occupational hearing loss is prevalent among construction workers. (A new study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine concludes the construction industry needs to implement better noise controls.) Meanwhile, hearing aids, which typically cost several thousand dollars, are not covered by most insurance plans (including Medicare) and are a luxury that retired Laborers may not be able to afford. In retirement, Laborers with occupational hearing loss cannot hear and enjoy the voices of their families and friends. Their worlds become ones of silence and isolation.

Employers can help protect employees from occupational hearing loss by instituting a comprehensive hearing conservation program that includes controlling on-the-job noise, hearing tests and toolbox talks on noise and hearing loss. Order the LHSFNA's Controlling Noise in Construction guide and its Hearing Conservation for Construction Workers model program.

Employees can take steps to protect their hearing by always using hearing protectors when engaging in noisy tasks. They should also ask for training on noise and hearing loss protection, get their hearing checked every year and document their hearing loss.

It is also important to control noise off the job. Turn down the volume on the stereo, TV, car radio and on personal listening devices with earphones or earbuds. On and off the clock, know what kinds of situations can cause harmful noise levels and take steps to protect your hearing.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]