February 07, 2015 • By Dennis Beaver
If you are now, or have spent a career working in a noisy environment — for example, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, bars, nightclubs, forestry, hair-styling — then today’s story will be of special interest. But first, a question:
When you think of the most common work-related injury in the United States, what comes to mind? Falls? Being caught and pulled into machinery? Auto accidents? Lifting heavy objects leading to back issues? Workplace violence?
Long Beach attorney Tom Nantais (gaylordnantais.com) has a surprising answer to that question, raising the volume on something that most people have never heard of: Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss.
“Sadly,” the workers compensation specialist observes, “despite laws intended to protect hearing, over 30 million Americans have significant hearing loss caused by their jobs. This is the most common work-related injury in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“From experience, I can say that most employees — unless they have been clearly informed — while working or after retirement, do not associate noise exposure on the job with their hearing loss. They might be aware of having impaired hearing but do not relate it to their employment, thinking, ‘Well, it’s old age.’
“Worse yet, the fact that this is a real injury and can be the basis of compensation is not widely known,” he underscores.
Before and after baseline hearing evaluation helpful but not necessary
In speaking with Nantais, a question immediately occurred to us, and I’ll bet you’re also wondering the same thing: How could I possibly file a workers compensation claim for hearing loss without showing what my hearing was before I began that job, just like a before and after photo?
“Surprisingly,” Nantais points out, “even without a before and after audiogram you can still have a valid claim,” explaining how workers compensation law deals with occupationally caused hearing loss:
“Audiometric testing produces a graph which shows the frequencies you can hear at a certain volume level. A person who has been injured by noise trauma loses their ability to hear high frequencies in a specific range, between 3,000 and 6,000 hertz. It usually comes back up at the 8,000 hertz level. It’s like a hillside, normal at the top and then as the frequency is higher, it drops off like a cliff.
“The audiogram of a natural hearing loss — caused by age, for example — is a flat line, showing a loss at all frequencies, or you may see other evidence of a congenital hearing loss. In workers compensation, when experts look at the audiogram of someone who has had noise induced hearing loss, they will most often conclude that noise exposure was the cause.”
Where was the exposure? When did you know?
“The next question is, where? If the person testifies that their only noise exposure, for example, was working in a bottling plant for 30 years, was not in the military, doesn’t go to rock concerts or listens to loud music, a baseline audiogram taken before the noise exposure is not needed.
“Time is critical, as a workers compensation claim must be filed within one year from an employee’s discovery of an on the job injury. The clock starts running when you are tested for the first time, asked by a health care professional ‘What type of work did you do?’ and told, ‘You have a hearing loss caused by your employment.’ Now you have knowledge and must act on it promptly,” Nantais cautions.
“Dennis, hearing aids cost thousands of dollars. How many of your readers are told, ‘Enjoy your job and after 30 years you will need hearing aids, so start saving now.’
“While some industries do take measures to protect the hearing of their employees, many do not. It just isn’t fair to have been a productive member of society, wind up with a significant hearing loss and out of pocket expenses for hearing aids,” he strongly maintains.
So, if the issues raised in our story sound familiar, then we suggest visiting Tom Nantais’s website. Like the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” we also recommend visiting the 3M Personal Safety Division website. Just Google: 3M Life can be Loud.
Their website is a real eye-opener as to how our noisy world can steal from us one of the greatest gifts of all.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.