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Have you heard? Workers' comp covers job-related hearing loss

You should never have to put yourself at risk for illness or injury just to keep a job. That principle certainly applies to occupational hearing loss, which continues to be one of the most widespread workplace safety concerns nationwide, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Luckily, it is possible to obtain workers' compensation benefits if your job causes you to lose at least 10 percent of your hearing.

People often don't realize they're working around hearing hazards

Why? First of all, noise is not the only hearing hazard you may be exposed to at work. According to the Department of Health and Human Services publication "Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss - A Practical Guide," exposure to certain chemicals and metals can also cause hearing loss, as well as vibration and even extreme heat. Also, exposure to a combination of these factors may cause more hearing loss than a single factor alone.

Second, even when workplace noise levels are sufficient to cause hearing loss, workers often aren't aware of that. For example, you might not know that an ordinary electric spray painter puts out 105 decibels, while OSHA recommends workplace exposure to no more than 85 decibels without protection.

OSHA requires employers to provide adequate hearing protection. Generally, there are three aspects to an effective workplace noise protection plan:

  • Engineering controls, or efforts to modify the source of the noise, such as buying a quieter machine
  • Administrative controls, or things like moving someone's workstation away from the noise
  • Personal protective equipment, such sound-buffering headphones

How do I know if I'm eligible for a hearing loss workers' comp claim?

An important difference between hearing loss claims and other workplace injury claims is that partially losing your hearing may not make you miss work. Missing work is generally a basic requirement for workers' comp, but not in hearing loss claims.

They're also unusual because you might not become aware of a permanent hearing loss until some time has passed. In recognition of that, the deadline to file a hearing loss claim is three years from the date of your last exposure to the hearing hazard.

Basically, however, if you can prove you worked around significant hearing hazards, you have lost 10 percent or more of your hearing, and your doctor believes your hearing loss was job-related, you should be eligible for workers' compensation.

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