Monday, March 2, 2009

Occupational Hearing Loss and Minnesota Workers' Compensation

Hearing loss that is caused by work or occupational activities is covered by workers’ compensation. Hearing loss can be caused by a blow to the head which causes injury to the brain or the structure of the ear. It can also be caused by exposure to certain kinds of chemicals, such as Ototoxic medicines (including certain antibiotics) and other substances (such as arsenic, mercury, tin, lead, and manganese). More commonly, occupational hearing loss is caused by exposure to noise or vibration that causes damage to the inner ear. This is also known as acoustic trauma.

Symptoms of hearing loss include:
  • Decreased hearing
  • Muffled hearing
  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Ringing, roaring, hissing, or buzzing in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Ear pain, itching, or irritation
  • Pus or fluid leaking from the ear. This may result from an injury or infection that is causing hearing loss
  • Vertigo, which can occur with hearing loss caused by Ménière's disease, acoustic neuroma, or labyrinthitis.
Sounds above 90 decibels (dB, a measurement of the loudness or strength of vibration of a sound), particularly if the sound is prolonged, may cause such intense vibration that the inner ear is damaged.
  • 90 dB is about the loudness of a large truck about 5 yards away. Motorcycles, snowmobiles, and similar engines range around 85 to 90 dB.
  • 100 dB is reached by some rock concerts.
  • 120 dB is a jackhammer from 3 feet away.
  • 130 dB is a jet engine from 100 feet away.
People who work in certain types of jobs are more susceptible to hearing loss, including:
  • Airport workers
  • Landscapers
  • People who work in the music industry
  • Bartenders
  • Police officers
  • Firefighters
  • Cab, truck, and bus drivers
  • Hairstylists
  • Mechanics
  • Factory workers
  • Farmers and agricultural workers
  • Manufacturers
  • Metal workers
  • Construction workers
Construction workers are particularly at risk for hearing loss. The decibel (dB) measurement for some common construction tools are very high:
  • Pneumatic chip hammer 103-113 dB
  • Jackhammer 102-111 dB
  • Stud welder 101 dB
  • Concrete joint cutter 99-102 dB
  • Bulldozer 93-96 dB
  • Crane 90-96 dB
  • Earth Tamper 90-96 dB
  • Skilsaw 88-102 dB
  • Hammer 87-95 dB
  • Gradeall 87-94 dB
  • Front-end loader 86-94 dB
  • Backhoe 84-93 dB
  • Garbage disposal (at 3 ft.) 80 dB
  • Vacuum cleaner 70 dB
Hearing loss may be permanent. Treatment for hearing loss is to try to improve any remaining hearing, and to develop coping skills, such as lip reading. A hearing aid may also be prescribed to improve communication. Methods for protecting the ears from further damage may be recommended.

Steps can be taken to prevent or reduce the risks of hearing loss. You should protect your ears when you are exposed to loud noises by wearing protective ear plugs or earmuffs. You should also educate yourself about the hearing loss risks of activities such as attending loud concerts, snowmobiling, or firing guns.

Under Minnesota workers’ compensation, if your occupational activities are substantial contributing factors to your hearing loss, your condition is covered under workers’ compensation. Medical care and treatment for your hearing loss is covered by workers’ compensation insurance. If you are unable to work due to your hearing loss, you may be entitled to wage loss benefits. If you are unable to go back to your former employment due to your hearing loss, you may be eligible for rehabilitation or retraining benefits. Finally, depending on the extent of your hearing loss, you may be entitled to permanent partial disability compensation. If you or someone you know suffers from work-related hearing loss, contact Meuser & Associates for a free consultation. Make sure you get the benefits you are entitled to. Call us at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email. An ASL translator is available on request.

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