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Occupational noise: The silent workplace safety hazard?

When people think about workplace safety and health hazards, there are probably a few vivid examples that come to mind. Most of these musings are likely very clear health threats, such as chemical exposure, heavy equipment or long-term bodily wear and tear.

However, exposure to high levels of noise is a serious workplace health issue that people might not think much about. Being exposed to constant noise on the job may not present a problem after a day, but over time it can create irreversible hearing damage.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about 30 million workers are exposed to dangerous levels of noise on the job. The effects of this exposure are very clear, and statistics demonstrate this. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 21,000 cases of hearing loss came forward in 2009 alone.

One of the biggest problems is that long-term exposure to loud noise at work can lead to permanent hearing loss. This, of course, is irreversible. Furthermore, medical treatments or hearing aids are not necessarily effective after a certain point. Permanent disability could be a consideration for individuals in this position, if working is no longer possible.

OSHA sets limits on workplace noise exposure, which is something that should be on every employer's radar. If noise is a concern, safety equipment is also something that could be provided to workers to prevent hearing damage.

Above all, workers may be curious to determine if compensation is in line for short- or long-term hearing issues as the result of noise exposure at work. Whether hearing issues are a concern due to a singular encounter with a loud noise at work or a constant drone of noise, workers deserve to feel as though their auditory health will be put in serious jeopardy by work.

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "Occupational Noise Exposure," accessed July 24, 2014

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