Hearing Loss in the Workplace

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In 2011, a man named Jeff Ammon was forced to stop working because of a hearing loss related pain in his inner ear. After working in construction for 32 years without any hearing protection, he is now unable to even venture outdoors. Jeff Ammon, like many others, has been affected so greatly by his hearing loss that he has been forced to spend most of his time in a soundproof basement in order to avoid the pain brought upon by loud, everyday noises.

As shown in CNN’s article about fighting hearing loss in the workplace, this type of injury is the most common work-related injury in America. Workers in several types of environments, such as miners, construction, and manufacturing, are the most likely to suffer from hearing loss. According to the Department of Labor, around $242 million is spent every year on worker’s compensation specifically for hearing loss disabilities.

Of course, there are rules and guidelines put into place in order to prevent such injuries from happening. The only problem is that these guidelines are often unenforced and outdated. The regulations created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration don’t acknowledge the other factors involved in noise exposure. The maximum level of noise exposure that they say can be allowed before employers have to provide sound protection equipment doesn’t take into account noise exposures that occur outside of the workplace. Factors such as concerts, crowded stores, sporting events, and other environments with a high level of noise can add to the chance of a hearing disability for workers. Like Ammon, a large number of these workers who end up suffering from hearing loss never receive compensation.

Another problem with the enforcement of hearing regulation lies within the workplace itself. Many employers fail to properly teach their employees about the risks involved in high noise environments, and the result is often workers who don’t use hearing protection. Especially in the case of workers who are around loud equipment but don’t operate it themselves, plenty of workers simply ignore their access to hearing protection because they are unaware of how important it is to their safety and health.
Efforts to decrease the risk of employees with hearing disabilities are constantly moving forward. The Labor Department recently launched “Hear and Now” in order to bring in innovative pitches and solutions for technology that could help alert workers to their working conditions. But although these efforts are appreciated and certainly help to bring attention to workplace injuries, the technology that could help already exists. The real issue is that employers are unwilling to pay the money for technology that would better protect their workers’ hearing. Options such as installing noise barriers or replacing loud equipment could help reduce the risk of hearing loss much more than simply offering hearing protection gears, but many old factories simply don’t prioritize these types of investments.

Because of the damaging consequences and the high chance of disabling injuries, the issue of hearing loss in the workplace needs to be more widely acknowledged. For anything truly significant to change, the workers themselves have to be informed first.

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