Noise is one of the most pervasive of all occupational health hazards in the United States and a critical workplace safety and health issue. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 5.2 million workers are exposed to daily averages of noise levels of at least 85 dBA (decibels) in the manufacturing industry. Nearly 1.5 million of these workers have average noise exposures between 90 and 95 dBA and another 1 million experience exposure levels between 95 and 100 dBA, with almost 500 thousand of these workers having daily exposures in excess of 100 dBA.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the occupational safety and health community named hearing loss one of the twenty-one priority areas for research in the next century. The American industry has claimed many occupational noise induced hearing loss victims. NIOSH estimates that approximately ten million people in the United States have noise-induced hearing loss, nearly all of which was the result of occupational exposures.

What is occupational noise induced hearing loss (NIHL)?

Occupational exposure to noise dates as far back as the Middle Ages where workers in professions such as blacksmithing, mining, and church bell ringing were known to suffer hearing loss. Not long ago occupational noise-induced hearing loss was called “boiler-maker’s disease” and many thought it was an inevitable consequence of a noisy job.

Occupational noise-induced hearing loss is caused by continuous exposure to high levels of noise. It may manifest itself as a high-frequency tinnitus and slight muffling of sound in its early stages, with difficulty understanding speech in noisy listening environments and then in quiet as the individuals hearing loss increases. The rate of hearing loss due to chronic noise exposure is greatest during the first ten to fifteen years of exposure. Typically, the first sign of occupational noise induced hearing loss is a “notching” of the audiogram at 3000, 4000, or 6000 Hz, with recovery at 8000 Hertz (Hz). Over a period of years of prolonged noise exposure, hearing loss due to noise expands to involve additional frequencies. The extent of damage depends primarily on the intensity of the noise and the duration of the exposure. Noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Temporary hearing loss results from short-term exposures to noise, with normal hearing returning after a period of rest. However, prolonged exposure to high noise levels over a period of time gradually causes permanent damage in the high frequency range. While any worker can be at risk for noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace, workers in many industries have higher exposures to dangerous levels of noise. Industries with high numbers of exposed workers include but not limited to: agriculture, construction, manufacturing, utilities, transportation and petroleum.

How does occupational NIHL affect me?

Occupational noise-induced haring loss is often ignored or underrated because there are no visible effects, it develops over a long period of time, and, except in very rare cases, there is no pain associated with it. Unfortunately, once noise-induced hearing loss is acquired, it is permanent and irreversible.

Noise-induced hearing loss is the inability to differentiate the meaning of various sounds. For example, to a person with noise-induced hearing loss—even under ideal conditions—the phrase “the boy went up the hill” would sound like “au oy ent ae au ill”. When background noise is added to the equation, a person with noise-induced hearing loss can be completely cut off from communicating with others.

The ability to hear is undeniably a key quality-of-life issue. NIHL causes a progressive loss of the ability to communicate or socialize with family, friends and co-workers, as well as a loss of sensitivity and responsiveness to ones environment..

Is occupational NIHL compensable?

Occupational NIHL is preventable, unnecessary and a compensable personal injury in the State of Louisiana. Occupational noise induced hearing loss is not a compensable injury under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act (LWCA), because it is not considered an occupational disease or illness as listed in the LWCA. Because occupational noise induced hearing loss is a slow progressive decrease in the ability to hear over a number of years, it is not considered an accident within the meaning of the LWCA. Therefore, an individual who suffers from occupational noise induced hearing loss is not barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the LWCA and can proceed directly against their employer.  Please remember, if you have been diagnosed with noise induced hearing loss from your work environment, under Louisiana law you only have one year to file suit to protect your legal rights.

How can F. Gerald Maples, P.A. help me?

F. Gerald Maples, P.A. has been involved in occupational noise induced hearing loss litigation for many years. We have assembled a team of seasoned trail attorneys and established a comprehensive occupational noise- induced hearing loss evaluation program. F. Gerald Maples, P.A. has recovered millions of dollars in damages for workers suffering from occupational noise-induced hearing loss. We know what it take to successfully litigate your NIHL claim and we are dedicated to providing hearing evaluations for those workers who have been exposed to high levels of occupational noise.

If you are interested in having your hearing tested for noise-induced hearing loss or if you would like to speak with someone about your particular situation or about occupational noise-induced hearing loss in general, please contact us.  If you worked in a work place with high levels of noise you may also have been exposed to asbestos.  If you have not been tested for asbestos exposure disease of the lungs please contact us for more information.