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Hearing loss is the most common workplace injury

Think about some of the jobs that keep this country moving. Many of them place workers in the midst of very loud sounds for prolonged periods of time. Coal miners, factory workers and bartenders are a few categories of workers that might be subjected to these loud noises.

Constant or prolonged exposure to loud noises can lead to hearing loss. This is the most common workplace injury that occurs in this country. Around 22 million workers are exposed to loud occupational noises each year. Each of these cases could lead to serious problems.

Definition of occupational hearing loss

Occupational hearing loss is defined by MedlinePlus as inner ear damage due to vibrations or loud noises at work. Typically, hearing loss will occur when a person is around sounds or noise that registers at 80 decibels or more for a prolonged period. This encompasses more sounds than what many people realize.

A large truck can register at 90 decibels at a distance of only five yards. A jackhammer registers 120 decibels at three feet away, so you can imagine how loud it would be for the person who is actually using it. A rock concert can be 100 decibels.

In some cases, even short bursts of loud noises can lead to hearing loss. This is why people who work around blast sites, such as building demolitions, wear ear protection.

Signs, symptoms and diagnosis

Often the only sign that something is amiss is being unable to hear or having difficulty hearing. Some people report that they have pain in the ear when they hear certain sounds. Others report ringing in the ears.

A person who has signs of hearing loss will likely need tests done to confirm a diagnosis. Auditory testing and MRIs are sometime used to get this done. Once a hearing problem is detected, the focus turns toward helping the person to learn coping mechanisms that enable him or her to live without hearing. Learning to read lips is an example of this.

Prevention is the best option

Preventing hearing loss is the best option for employees and employers. The duty to ensure a safe hearing environment is placed on the employer. While reducing noise could be possible by replacing older and louder machines and using sound barriers, many employers find these options too costly. The alternative to these is to provide workers with hearing protection. The issue with this is that workers might not faithfully wear the hearing protection when they are exposed to lower decibel sounds like they would wear it when they are around higher decibel noises.

Workers' compensation is possible

Hearing loss is likely to be permanent, but catching the issue early is necessary. This problem can get worse if noise exposure continues. It is possible for workers who suffer from hearing loss to receive workers' compensation benefit if the issue was caused by workplace conditions. Hearing loss is estimated to cost the workers' compensation system an estimated $242 million each year.

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