Are Workers Adequately Compensated for Job Related Hearing Loss?
Occupational hearing loss ranks as one of the most pervasive “work-related illnesses” in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With over 20 million U.S. workers exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, job-related hearing loss affects a significant portion of the workforce. Another 9 million workers are exposed to ototoxic chemicals, which can damage the auditory nerve and the vestibular system, thereby causing hearing loss.
Are hundreds of millions of dollars enough?
While an estimated $242 million is spent annually on worker’s compensation for hearing loss disabilities, that sum may not necessarily be adequate to take care of all of the workers who lose their hearing on the job. These individuals can face a reality in which they experience difficulty:
- Hearing high-frequency sounds.
- Understanding speech.
- Communicating with loved ones, co-workers, and neighbors.
- Playing with children and grandchildren.
- Participating in normal social activities.
In addition to impairing an individual’s ability to work, hearing loss can also lead to psychological and social isolation, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). With individuals in industries such as the manufacturing sector suffering hearing loss at higher rates, some workers feel that hearing loss is a fact of life with which they must live. The fact remains that hearing loss can and should be prevented in the workplace.
Are employers doing enough to prevent hearing loss?
According to the CDC, employers are obligated to focus on the following to minimize hearing loss: noise exposure monitoring, engineering and administrative controls, use of hearing protection devices, education, and noise level evaluation. Since neither surgery nor hearing aids can ultimately help correct permanent hearing loss, employers should be held responsible for creating work environments in which workers lose their invaluable ability to hear.