What Do I Need to Know About Hearing Loss in the Workplace?

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Hearing loss is one of the most common and preventable occupational illnesses in this country and around the world. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 20,000 cases of workplace hearing loss every year in the United States. Many of these cases result in permanent hearing loss. Unsafe work conditions, lack of personal protective equipment, and exposure to unhealthy noise levels can put workers at risk for occupational hearing loss. This can impact a worker’s ability to communicate effectively with coworkers and clients, and to function as a member of a team. Employees suffering from occupational hearing loss should consider contacting an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer.

Should I Disclose My Hearing Loss to My Employer?

Employees who suffer from occupational hearing loss often wonder whether they should disclose it to their employer. In some cases, this stems from feeling nervous about the implications of disclosing their condition and a fear of being treated differently by fellow employees, or they may be in denial that they suffer from hearing loss. It is highly recommended that employees discuss their hearing loss with their employer for the following reasons:

  • It avoids any confusion about why the employee did not appropriately respond to in-person verbal instructions, or a conversation that occurred over the phone.
  • Employees who suffer from hearing loss are often protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Disclosing this information will ensure that the employee is protected against discrimination and has access to reasonable benefits.
  • It gives the employee the opportunity to initiate a conversation with his or her employer about hearing loss and the steps that can be taken to create a productive and safe work environment for all employees, including those suffering from occupational hearing loss. The multi-disclosure approach encourages employee to tell coworkers about their hearing loss and let them know the most effective way to communicate with them. This can be extremely helpful to coworkers and is often very empowering for the employee who is hearing impaired.

How Do I Navigate the Workplace with Hearing Loss?

There are several proactive steps that employees can take that will help create a positive, supportive, and productive work environment for an employee with hearing loss, including the following:

  • Stay organized and be prepared. The most common work-related issue that is challenging to hearing-impaired employees is missing important information communicated by a coworker or a client, either in person or over the phone. The following recommendations can help:
    – Create an agenda and take down notes in preparation for a phone call.
    – Find a quiet place where you can work productively, make phone calls, or conduct small meetings with as little noise as possible.
    – After the meeting or phone call has ended, confirm the key points that were discussed, either verbally or in writing.
    – If necessary, be prepared to use alternative communication options, such as email or instant message.
  • Create a routine. Another effective strategy for dealing with occupational hearing loss is to establish a consistent workplace routine. The following strategies can help build a successful routine at work:
    – Identify coworkers that will help you do your job effectively, and work with each of them individually to improve communication and teamwork.
    – Maintain consistent work conditions, including finding a quiet place where you can be the most productive.
    – Understand that the routine will become easier over time, and that it will improve your communication skills with your team.
  • Avoid making excuses. Do not pretend that you do not suffer from hearing loss or make excuses about it. This will make it more difficult to do your job, and it can have a negative impact on your relationships with coworkers. Be honest about your hearing loss rather than let coworkers think you are careless or inattentive.
  • Obtain a hearing aid. This can help you do your job effectively and adapt more easily to a range of circumstances at work. 

What Accommodations Can I Request from My Employer?

Depending on the severity of the employee’s hearing loss, he or she will require different accommodations. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The following are examples of accommodations that hearing-impaired employees can request from their employer:

  • Adjustments to the workspace. If noise is interfering with your ability to complete tasks, or making telephone calls is difficult, discuss possible changes to your work area that can help you be more productive.
  • Telephones that are hearing aid compatible (HAC). You are entitled to request an HAC, as well as a captioned telephone service, also known as Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IPCTS).
  • Assignments provided in writing. Request that assignments and discussions are put in writing and provide your supervisor with a written summary to confirm that you understand the assignment.
  • Ask that an agenda of the meeting be forwarded to you in advance so that you are prepared for the topics being discussed.
  • Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART). This provides a transcription of every word that is spoken and displays it on a laptop or is projected onto a screen. If needed, the CART writer can provide a written transcript.
  • Emergency notification systems. When a hearing-impaired worker cannot hear a fire alarm, or some other audible emergency notification, emergency assistive technology should be available in the event of an emergency. Examples include strobe lights on fire alarms, vibrating pages, and multiple-frequency alarms. 

What is the Economic Impact of Hearing Loss?

Individuals with hearing loss often deal with a range of disadvantages, many of which are financial:

  • Adults with hearing loss tend to be less educated, resulting in lower incomes and a higher rate of unemployment compared to typical hearing peers.
  • Untreated hearing loss can result in a decrease in an employee’s annual income by up to $30,000.
  • Individuals who did collect an income generally made approximately 25 percent less compared to typical hearing peers.

How Can Employers Prevent Occupational Hearing Loss?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hearing standards are designed to prevent hearing loss in the workplace. However, many employers fail to comply with these standards. Personalizing hearing loss prevention is key to long-term protection. The following are effective ways to protect workers and prevent occupational hearing loss:

  • Identify high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) that is adjustable and provides lasting comfort.
  • Make sure that employees are trained on the proper fit of earplugs. Not all earplugs will fit every worker. Fit testing is necessary to keep workers protected and motivated.
  • Other hearing loss prevention methods include providing new data points and tools. Smart hearing solutions can identify workers who are at an increased risk for noise-induced hearing loss and develop personalized hearing conservation programs.

Can I File a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Hearing Loss?

The short answer is yes, but there are important factors to consider. First, not all hearing loss is necessarily going to be covered by Workers’ Compensation. An initial hearing test may only show early signs of hearing loss, which is a frequency loss between 4,000 and 6,000 hertz. This is not covered under Maryland Workers’ Compensation law. However, if the hearing loss is within the 500 to 3,000 hertz range, it is covered, but only if the average is over 25 decibels of loss and you are under the age of 50 when you were last exposed to noise. If you were over age 50 the last time you were exposed to occupational noise, the average goes up by one half decibel per year.

When it comes to paying for Workers’ Compensation benefits, the employer you worked for when you were exposed to the harmful noise will be responsible for paying your hearing loss claim, as long as you worked for that employer for a minimum of 90 days. If you worked for more than one employer at the same time, and you were exposed to harmful noises at both places, both employers may share the responsibility of paying your benefits.

Workers have two years to file a hearing loss claim from the moment they started to lose their hearing. However, it can be tricky to identify the exact moment that a worker started to lose their hearing, since it is a gradual process. If a worker misses the deadline, they still may be able to file a claim, but the process becomes a bit more complicated. Either way, it is highly recommended to discuss each case with a skilled Workers’ Compensation lawyer who can protect one’s legal rights and secure benefits.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Victims of Occupational Hearing Loss

If you suffer from hearing loss that is work related, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our experienced legal team will walk you through the claims process and secure the maximum financial benefits you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.