Hearing loss is an overlooked or ignored danger on many job sites, but the damage that occurs can be permanent. Noisy occupations, such as construction, have a high rate of hearing loss, yet there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of ear damage. When employers fail to protect employees from hearing loss, they may become liable for the employee’s damages.
If you or a loved one has experienced hearing loss due to high levels of noise on a job, please know that you are not alone. While not all hearing loss is avoidable, it is possible that your loss was due to a lack of protection that should have been offered by your employer or supervisor. Call the New York construction accident attorneys at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, at (212) 986-7353 for a free consultation about your situation.
Hearing loss refers to any kind of damage to the ears and someone's ability to hear, which is often permanent. This happens when the organs and bones in a person's middle and inner ear are so damaged by loud noises that they no longer work properly. Mild damage may not necessarily reduce a person's ability to hear, but can cause ringing in the ears (tinnitus). With more severe damage, a person will no longer be able to hear noises at certain volumes or within certain ranges.
The volume or intensity of sounds is measured in decibels (dBA). Sound measured in decibels increases in a "non-linear" way, which means that a small increase in measured sound is actually far louder than it might seem. For example, 40 dBA is the sound of a soft whisper just a few feet away, but 80 dBA is the sound of a freight train going by about 100 feet away.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a volume level of 80 dBA is acceptable for a workplace where someone works an eight-hour shift. As the volume increases, however, work shifts should decrease, or exposure to higher volumes should be limited. By law, for every 5 dBA increase, the amount of time a person is exposed to that noise level must be cut in half. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests that for every 3 dBA increase, the time spent exposed to it should be reduced by half.
The warning signs of hearing loss are very important, since they give you the chance to prevent permanent ear damage. If you are concerned that your workplace might be too loud, consider the following:
- Do you have to shout to talk to a coworker only a foot or two away?
- Do you hear ringing or humming in your ears after work?
- Do you experience temporary hearing loss sometimes after leaving work?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may work in an environment that is too loud and you should be provided with hearing protection.
Occupational noise-induced hearing loss is avoidable if the proper steps are taken by employers. Construction companies and other businesses need to have hearing conservation programs in place to protect their workers. These programs may include:
- Engineering Noise Controls: These are mechanical steps taken to help reduce noise. This can include things like employers choosing low-noise tools, keeping tools properly maintained to reduce noise, and placing barriers on worksites to isolate loud noises from most employees.
- Administrative Controls: Rather than physical methods, these are institutional behaviors that prevent hearing damage. These include things like limiting how long loud machines are used and restricting workers from being too close to loud machines.
- Hearing Protection Devices: The last line of defense against hearing loss is the use of earmuffs or plugs to reduce noise levels. These devices can work well, but OSHA suggests they only be used when engineering or administrative efforts have not yet been introduced or if such controls cannot work in a particular situation.
Hearing loss is a serious issue. If your employer failed to protect you from injury due to noise, call us at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, today at (212) 986-7353. Tell us about your situation and we can discuss your legal options going forward.