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Preventable workplace injuries include hearing loss

After 32 years on the job, a construction worker began to notice ear pressure after each work day. Soon, his symptoms progressed to hearing loss, piercing pain and extreme sensitivity to sound. He was forced to leave his job due to permanent hearing loss from years of daily exposure to noisy equipment without the benefit of hearing protection. People in Oklahoma may be surprised to learn that hearing loss is one of the most common workplace injuries in the country.

Since the Social Security Administration does not recognize hearing loss as a disabling disease, this construction worker is not eligible for benefits to help pay for his many medications, medical bills and therapies. Because of his sensitivity to noise, he spends most of his time isolated from the outside world. While he searches for relief from his pain, he urges other workers to protect their own hearing.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has had regulations in place to prevent hearing loss since the 1970s. However, most of those regulations have not been updated since that decade, and some feel it is past time to re-evaluate. University studies suggest that workers in moderate noise environments may be at a higher risk for hearing loss because they simply do not know the dangers of prolonged exposure to noises. They are also likely to be less diligent about wearing ear protection than those working in noisier environments.

Each year, nearly 22 million workers are exposed to dangerous levels of noise, adding up to about $242 million in workers' compensation benefits for disability. Currently there is technology available to measure the levels of noise and alert workers when it becomes hazardous. However, such protections are expensive, and many small businesses may not be able to invest in those products. Employers in Oklahoma and elsewhere are encouraged to educate their workers about the importance of protecting their hearing. Preventing such workplace injuries may save a lifetime of pain.

Source: USA Today, "Shhh! America's most common workplace injury is hearing loss", Zhai Yun Tan, Sept. 1, 2016

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