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When most people hear the term hearing loss, the first things that comes to mind are age related hearing loss, accidental or genetic. In actuality occupational hearing loss is one of the most commonly notes work related illnesses in the United States.
What is occupational hearing loss?
Occupational hearing loss is hearing loss that is directly related to or caused by hazards of an occupational nature. This could include excessive noise or chemicals that are ototoxic. This includes chemicals that are absorbed through the skin, ingested or inhaled. There is an area of unknown as not all chemicals have been tested for ototoxicity. It is estimated that over 29 million workers are exposed to noise and ototoxic chemicals that could cause them hearing loss.
Are Some Careers More at Risk?
Some careers that are at higher risk of occupational hearing loss are mining, which has the highest prevalence at 17%, as well as construction, utilities and agriculture. Other industries with exposure either to ototoxic chemicals or noise include manufacturing jobs like factory workers and transporters.
Personal Protective Equipment such as gloves, gowns, masks and earplugs can help reduce the chances of hearing loss. Noise reduction or headphones where allowed are also another step. Keeping an up to date materials safety data sheet also will help in the reduction of the risk of hearing loss. Being aware of the possibility is the first step in prevention.
Untreated Occupational Hearing Loss
If occupational hearing loss is not identified and treated it can affect more than just hearing. 20,000 cases of occupational hearing loss are reported annually in the U.S. according to the U.S: Labor Statistics. This leads to almost 25% of hearing loss nationwide being occupational. Many of these cases end up with permanent loss.
If nothing is done and the loss continues It can decrease your income by up to $30,000. With many who claim hearing loss, around 48%, this can affect federal funds as well. Couple that with the fact that almost 47% of people with occupational hearing loss are not employed and you have even more detrimental figures. The societal cost can be up to $26 billion in federal taxes that won’t be collected. The total income loss can be as high as $176 billion.
Unfortunately, untreated occupational hearing loss can also lead to longer period of unemployment. 15.6% of adults with severe occupational hearing loss were unemployed compared to just 7.8% of their peers with no documented hearing problems and 8.3% of those who use hearing aids.
There is also a sense of frustration between colleagues when one is constantly asking others to repeat what was said or turning devices up too loudly for the general population. A lack of communication can lead to feelings of isolation and emotional insecurity which can decrease productivity. Furthermore, communication issues can hinder growth potential. This can further the wage gap between the hearing impaired and typical hearing employees by up to $11,000. Another concern is work being done improperly leading to a decline in productivity and wasted man hours.
In order to keep your job secure, communication is key. Speak with your employer. Keep them informed of doctor visits and any changes you may need to make. If there are accommodations that need to be made in your workspace you will need to inform your employer. If you use a telephone and have opted for a hearing aid, you will need to make sure the phone is compatible with your aid. When it comes to meetings and other communications, speak with your employer to make sure that you can receive a written summation of what was discussed. As you have a responsibility to keep them informed an employer also has the responsibility to respond in kind. Also speak with them make sure emergency notification systems are updated for hearing impaired with flashing lights so that important alerts are not missed. You may also suggest an in-service to help fellow colleagues learn how to best communicate with you.
Dealing with occupational hearing loss is tough but not impossible. With proper communication and medical aides, you can continue to be successful in your career.