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OSHA has program to combat hearing loss as a workplace injury

OSHA has instituted a push to get companies to increase efforts to protect the hearing of their workers. In Massachusetts and nationwide, workers often sustain a kind of gradual-onset workplace injury that may not rise to the level of deafness but which results in loss of clarity and a loss of understanding. Those abilities are needed in the workplace to avoid other kinds of injuries. The Department of Labor has verified that hearing loss is a major life deficit that can lead to personal isolation due to loss of communication abilities.

About 22 million workers nationwide face damaging levels of noise at work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, occupational hearing loss is the most common workplace injury or illness in the United States. Although workers are entitled to workers' compensation benefits for hearing losses, insurance carriers are not always friendly to these workers' compensation claims, and may argue that the loss is not job-related or is from the natural effects of aging.

OSHA is offering audiometric testing for workers, training for management, and suggestions for hearing protection methods. Unfortunately, when exposed to long periods of noise, damage can occur to the hair cells lining the inner ear. Those sensory cells, said a hearing doctor, are responsible for transmitting sound and are irreplaceable when lost.

With Massachusetts having a large manufacturing base, the OSHA program could impact how companies operate throughout the state. The fact is that hearing loss is a workplace injury that is preventable. One benefit for companies will be a reduction in workers' compensation claims, not only for hearing loss but also for other injuries contributed to by hearing loss. Some options are to use the quietest machines possible, and also to implement barriers and insulation.

In Massachusetts and elsewhere, other options for preventing this type of workplace injury involve running the nosiest machines during night shifts, and even restricting the amount of time workers spend in a noisy environment. The most common approach, however, is to have workers wear ear protection, such as earplugs, but workers often don't insert the devices properly. There are some occupations, moreover, like police and firemen, who cannot afford to block out noise.

Source: telegram.com, OSHA to tackle hearing protection, Amanda Roberge, Sept. 1, 2013

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