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Most common workplace injuries involve hearing loss

The results of a recent study have prompted the federal Department of Labor to take action. It has launched a new educational campaign aimed at increasing awareness of one of the most common workplace injuries in California and across the country. Among jobs in mining, construction and manufacturing, workers risk hearing loss more than any other injury. Some are now calling for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to review and update its regulations for protecting the hearing of workers.

One man worked for 32 years in construction and began to experience piercing ear pain and pressure. Soon his symptoms included ringing in his ears, dizziness and hearing loss. He was unable to continue working and now spends most of his time indoors taking medications for pain, stress and depression. Even more frustrating, the man's hearing loss is not on the list of disabling conditions approved by Social Security Administration, so his application for disability benefits was rejected.

A university study found that people most at risk for hearing loss are those who work around moderate noise levels. This may be because workers exposed to dangerously high levels of noise are more likely to wear hearing protection than those in lower noise environments. However, it is not merely volume that can damage hearing. Prolonged exposure to noise may also cause hearing loss. Workers exposed to moderate noise on the job must also take into account the sound levels outside of work, such as sporting events and concerts.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to damaging levels of noise on the job annually. This translates to almost $242 million in disability payments from workers' compensation. While OSHA is re-evaluating its policies for noise levels to determine if more rigorous regulations are needed, the Department of Labor is soliciting ideas for new technology in hearing protection. Meanwhile, employers in California and beyond are urged to take responsibility for educating and protecting their workers from hearing loss and other workplace injuries.

Source: USA Today, "Shhh! America's most common workplace injury is hearing loss", Zhai Yun Tan, Sept. 1, 2016

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