We’ve discussed common workplace injuries on the blog many times. In some reports common causes of injury have been identified as things like mishandling materials, slip and falls and “struck by” injuries. A report out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that work-related hearing loss is the most common work injury and over 22 million workers a year are exposed to unsafe levels of noise.
The Department of Labor estimates that workers’ compensation payments for hearing loss disability total $242 million a year. Employers were penalized $1.5 million for failing to ensure their workers were protected against hearing damage. Hearing loss can be permanent, and even a short-term exposure can cause serious damage or tinnitus.
When noise exposure at a worksite is over 85 decibels for 8 working hours the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to implement a hearing safety and conservation plan. They estimate 85 decibels to be the same as a volume that you could hear someone talking who was three feet away from you without them having to raise their voice. There are those who say that the threshold for noise protection is set too low, and doesn’t take into account activities the employees might do outside of work that could contribute to hearing loss. OSHA says they are going to look into regulations at construction sites (which are held to different noise standards that most industries), and if they decide to tighten up regulations in that industry it could mean changes for other industries as well. Mining is the industry that sees the most hearing loss amongst workers, followed by construction and manufacturing.
Interestingly, a professor at Stanford University, Mark Cullen, did a study that found employees who suffer hearing loss the most are employees working in jobs where they are only exposed to moderate noise. You would think that employees working in areas with extreme noise levels would suffer the most damage but Cullen says people working in those environments know to wear noise protection at all times. People working in lower noise situations might not think about it as such a priority.
Employers can be the first line of defense against hearing loss, educating workers on the dangers of not wearing protection and providing the right equipment to their workers.
The DOL is asking for new ideas and technologies that could let workers know that they are working in an area with dangerous noise levels. The “Hear and Now” campaign submissions are due by the end of September. The CDC says that prevention and early identification are the best methods to avoid hearing loss.