Some work injuries heal in time, but others can have profound effects on injured workers for the rest of their lives, and there are few more profound than hearing loss. Individuals who are hard of hearing face challenges not only at work, but also in conversation, events, and many other aspects of life.
October is National Protect Your Hearing Month
This October, we're participating in "Protect Your Hearing Month" because our law firm has seen over and over again the impact of work-related hearing loss on New Yorkers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 million American workers are exposed to dangerous levels of noise on the job each year. This is a massive public health crisis, and both employers and workers need to take steps to address it.
How hearing loss occurs on the job
There are three main ways workers can sustain work-related hearing loss: noise exposure, ototoxins, and traumatic hearing loss.
Occupational noise exposure
Most work-related hearing loss occurs over a period of time due to exposure to dangerous levels of noise on the job. Anything above 85 decibels (dB) is considered dangerous, and noise levels should ideally be below 75 dB. Workers with a high risk of noise exposure include:
- Industrial and manufacturing workers
- Construction workers
- Airport workers
- Railroad workers
- Entertainment workers
- Bus drivers
Workers who are consistently exposed to high degrees of noise on the job need to wear ear protection to minimize the level of damage to their hearing.
Ototoxins are poisons that damage the ear, often found in industrial workplaces. Examples of ototoxic chemicals include:
- Heavy metals such as lead and mercury
- Industrial solvents like toluene, styrene, xylene, ethylbenzene, and trichloroethylene
- Carbon monoxide
- Hydrogen cyanide
- Tobacco smoke
Many industrial workers have "dual exposure;" that is, they are exposed to both ototoxins and high levels of noise on the job. The combined effects of both types of exposure can cause hearing loss even if the individual levels of exposure are lower than the "safe" threshold. Employers that expose workers to both types of hearing hazards need to be particularly careful about safety and ear protection.
Traumatic hearing loss
While hearing loss is usually sustained over time, some types of work accidents can cause immediate hearing loss. Traumatic hearing loss can be caused by an extremely loud noise such as an explosion or gunshot. It can be caused by a work accident that directly damages the ear itself. Hearing loss can also be a symptom of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that affect the parts of the brain that process sound.
As such, protecting workers' hearing also means protecting workers from on-the-job injuries in general. Vehicle accidents, falls, caught-between accidents, and other incidents can damage the ears just as they can damage any other part of the body.
How workers' comp for hearing loss works in New York
Under New York law, workers who sustain occupational hearing loss are entitled to up to three types of compensation:
- Medical expenses: workers' compensation pays for the full cost of reasonable and necessary medical treatment for on-the-job hearing loss. Depending on the type and extent of hearing loss, this may include hearing tests, treatment from an audiologist or ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor, hearing aids, and other medical procedures and devices.
- Lost wages: if you are unable to work due to your hearing loss, workers' compensation pays a percentage of your lost income. If you need to work fewer hours or take a different role for lower pay, workers' comp pays a percentage of the difference in income.
- Schedule loss of use (SLU) benefits: in New York, schedule loss of use awards are compensation for permanent, disabling injuries to certain parts of the body, based on the percentage of disability. An ear is worth 150 weeks according to the schedule of benefits. So, if you lost 50% of the use of one ear, you would get two-thirds of your average weekly wage for 75 weeks, even if you didn't miss a single day of work.
However, hearing loss claims are complex and often contested. Because occupational hearing loss usually happens over a period of time, there is no single incident you can document in order to prove the injury happened at work.
Moreover, while hearing loss is often work-related, it can also occur due to non-occupational noise exposure or simply as a natural result of aging. As such, the insurance company may dispute whether your hearing loss is work-related at all, as well as the extent of the loss and the amount of benefits you deserve.
That's why you need an experienced workers' compensation attorney who has a winning track record in hearing loss claims in New York. If you have hearing loss because of your job, contact us today for a free consultation.