There are many workers who spend hours in noisy environments in order to earn a living. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 22 million American workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels on the job each year. In addition, occupational hearing loss has been deemed "one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States."
Regular exposure to loud noises can cause wear and tear on the cochlea, which is a receptor organ in the inner ear that is responsible for sending sound signals to the brain. In addition, sudden, loud blasts of noise can rupture the ear drum.
Who is at risk of suffering work-related hearing loss?
The Environmental Protection Agency created a chart of "safe range" and "risk range" decibels (dB). Noise levels at 85 dB or higher fall under the risk range and can be emitted by:
- Heavy city traffic
- Chain saws
- Rock concerts and symphonies
- Ambulance sirens
A lot of equipment and machinery that people use at work create noise levels that fall well within the risk range. These are often found on construction sites, in manufacturing plants and warehouses, and in the presence of large commercial trucks. A recent study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that workers in the following service sub-sectors were at a disproportionate risk of hearing loss:
- Administration of urban planning
- Community and rural development
- Workers in the solid waste combustors and incinerators industry
OSHA limits on workplace noise levels
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has established maximum noise levels (under standard 1910.95) in dB and duration limits on exposure to workers. Here is what's allowed by law:
- 90 dB - 8 hours
- 92 dB - 6 hours
- 95 dB - 4 hours
- 97 dB - 3 hours
- 100 dB - 2 hours
- 102 dB - 1.5 hours
- 105 dB - 1 hour
- 110 dB - 30 minutes
- 115 dB - 15 minutes or less
The NIOSH 'Hierarchy of Controls'
Employers can protect their workers from occupational hearing loss by following the 'Hierarchy of Controls' established by the NIOSH. The most effective measure is eliminating unnecessary noises by physically removing the hazard. Employers can also consider these helpful, but less effective measures:
- Purchasing equipment and tools that emit less noise
- Isolating workers from hazardous noises
- Placing time limits on noise exposure
- Purchasing personal protective equipment for workers, such as earplugs and earmuffs.
Getting workers' compensation benefits for occupational hearing loss
Occupational hearing loss often impacts a worker's ability to perform their job and communicate with others. Workers may also experience prolonged ringing in the ears (tinnitus), which can affect their concentration and ability to sleep. For some workers, the impact is so severe that they can never perform the same job duties again.
If you sustained noise-induced hearing loss at work, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. In New Jersey, workers' compensation is a "no fault" system, so you don't have to prove that negligence led to your condition. At the same time, you will need to prove that your work environment caused your hearing loss.
Insurance companies often try to downplay workers' compensation claims involving hearing loss. They may argue that your condition was linked to other causes and not related to your job. The New Jersey workers' compensation attorneys at Shebell & Shebell, LLC can gather evidence to prove that your hearing loss was work-related. We can also advocate for a fair settlement to cover your current and future medical expenses and lost wages.
Our law firm has been fighting for the injured since 1927. With offices in Shrewsbury and Freehold, New Jersey, we offer free and confidential legal consultations to hurt workers in Monmouth and Ocean counties. To get started, contact us online or call us.