Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases. It is also fully and easily preventable. In Vermont we have relatively few hearing loss claims, however, most occupational hearing loss claims result in significant impairment for the worker and a significant expense for the employer or insurance carrier.
Noise is a well know hazard in the workplace but little is done to prevent it. Noise exposure can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss and ringing in the ears, also know as tinnitus. An individual who suffers hearing loss or hearing problems due to noise exposure in the workplace is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits including permanent impairment benefits to compensate them for the severity of their hearing loss or disorder.
Hearing loss is fully preventable. Employers are urged to make use of one of several types of hearing protection to preserve workers’ hearing. The four main hearing protectors available are as follows:
Ø Foam plugs – disposable; designed to be worn once
Ø Reusable pre-molded plugs – usually one/generic sizing small – medium – large.
Ø Canal caps – formable or pre-molded on a head band - easy removal/insertion
Ø Ear muffs – may block out noise completely or selectively; can amplify speaking
The key to use of protective devices is providing a variety of devices to ensure user comfort, and to make hearing protection easily assessable to workers.
Employers with hazardous noise levels should follow these workplace tips:
1. Hearing protection: provide hearing protectors, conveniently located.
2. Noise control: Reduce noise and/or reduce work performed in noisy areas.
3. Monitor noise: Provide hearing protection where there is noise.
In addition, employers should also be aware of and comply with the relevant VOSHA standards applicable to noise hazards and hearing protection.
Safety takes time and training but can also reduce costs. It is up to the employer to require that hearing protection be used and to train workers to use it properly and consistently. The use of ear plugs or ear muffs takes some getting used to. With time and consistent use, hearing loss can be prevented and costly claims reduced.