Occupational Hearing Loss

July 16, 2018

Occupational hearing loss is common among U.S. workers, especially those in the airline ground maintenance, construction, and farming industries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that each year, 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise and 30 million are exposed to ototoxic chemicals that can damage the ear and cause hearing loss.

A-weighted sound levels (dBA) are used to measure units of sound pressure levels (decibels). By closely matching the human ear’s perception of loudness, the A-weighted sound levels determine what number of decibels are potentially damaging to a person’s hearing. For example, a silent study room equals about 20 dBA and does not present a danger, while operating heavy equipment equals about 120 dBA, which is likely to cause hearing damage. While everyone agrees that workers should not be exposed to hazardous levels of dBA, federal agencies differ in opinion as to the legal limits that should be placed on noise exposure in the workplace.

Exposure Limits

OSHA recommends an exposure limit of 90 dBA for all workers for an eight-hour day, at a five-dBA exchange rate. This means that if a worker is exposed to a noise level increase of five-dBA, the time they can be exposed to that noise level is cut in half. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends an exposure limit of 85 dBA for eight hours, with a three-dBA exchange rate. For each increase by three-dBA, the amount of noise is doubled, and the recommended exposure time is halved.

OSHA implemented the Hearing Conservation Program in 1981 to protect manufacturing and service workers from hearing damage where they are exposed to a time-weighted average noise level of 85 dBA or higher during an eight-hour shift. The program requires employers to:

  • Measure noise levels
  • Give free annual hearing exams
  • Provide hearing protection and training
  • Conduct evaluations of hearing protection tools and make necessary changes to bring noise levels below 85 dBA

Hearing Loss Claims

Although the program has caused some positive improvements, hearing loss continues to be one of the most common types of workers’ compensation claims. OSHA estimates that employers paid over $1.5 million in penalties for failing to protect workers from damaging noise in 2017. Also, approximately $242 million per year is spent on workers’ compensation for hearing loss disability.

NIOSH recommends implementing effective controls according to the Hierarchy of Control, which lists noise hazard controls from most to least effective. The most effective control is eliminating the noise completely, followed by replacing noisy equipment and tools with quieter ones, controlling the noise hazard by creating barriers or otherwise isolating workers from the hazard, limiting the time workers are exposed to the noise, and providing workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Represent Workers in Occupational Hearing Loss Claims

If you suffered hearing loss due to your work environment, contact an experienced Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. We represent clients in Berks County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County. Call us at 888-PITT-LAW or complete our online contact form for a free consultation.

Our team also provides skilled representation to those residing in and around Abington, Ambler, Ardmore, Bala Cynwyd, Bensalem, Clifton Heights, Crum Lynne, Darby, Downingtown, Doylestown, Drexel Hill, Essington, Folcroft, Glenolden, Haverford, Havertown, Holmes, Kutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion Station, Morton, Narberth, Norristown, Norwood, Philadelphia, Prospect Park, Quakertown, Reading, Roxborough, Sharon Hill, Upper Darby, West Chester, and Wynnewood.