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Illinois workers’ compensation claims for work-related hearing losses

On Behalf of | Feb 3, 2022 | Workers' Compensation

Many Illinois jobs involve exposure to noise levels that can have a negative effect on your hearing. If you work in a loud environment and your hearing has diminished over time, there is a good chance that your hearing loss is work-related.

As Harvard Health Publishing describes it, hearing loss “can be partial or total, sudden or gradual, temporary or permanent. It can affect one ear or both.” Related symptoms may include tinnitus (ringing of the ears), ear pain, loss of balance or dizziness. If you experience hearing trouble and have had workplace exposure to excessive noise, you should file for workers’ compensation. If a visit to a hearing specialist confirms you have hearing loss, finding out more about how you can claim compensation will be crucial.

Two types of occupational hearing impairment

Certain workplaces are more likely harmful to hearing like factories, construction sites, demolition sites, industrial settings, shooting ranges, racetracks, concert arenas, airports, bars and nightclubs, mines and many others.

An article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) explains the two main kinds of occupational hearing damage related to the workplace:

  1. Occupational noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) “develops gradually over time and is a function of continuous or intermittent noise exposure.” NIHL can vary with duration of exposure, noise frequency (pitch, measured in Hertz or Hz) and level of intensity (loudness, measured in decibels or dB or dBA).
  2. Occupational acoustic trauma is “a sudden change in hearing as a result of a single exposure to a sudden burst of sound, such as an explosive blast.”

Mayo Clinic says that exposure to loudness over time can damage certain hairs or nerve cells necessary for sound signals to reach the brain. Loud noise blasts or sudden air pressure change can rupture an eardrum and impact hearing. The JOEM piece says that “[c]ontinuous noise exposure throughout the workday and over years is more damaging than interrupted exposure …”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has detailed information about occupational noise exposure, including the statistic that 22 million U.S. workers each year are exposed to possibly damaging noise levels in the workplace. OSHA regulates noise safety in the workplace with detailed requirements

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that noise levels stay below 85 dBA averaged over eight hours to protect hearing. (The above OSHA link brings you to a page with another link to a NIOSH Sound Level Meter App to assist in workplace noise measurement using a mobile device.)

OSHA and state regulators impose complex limits on occupational noise exposure as well as employer requirements and responsibilities to keep workers safe from hearing loss.

Dangerous substances

In addition, occupational exposure to ototoxic agents may contribute to hearing loss. These are a variety of chemicals and substances that negatively impact hearing or balance and the organs supporting these senses. Ototoxins include certain members of these categories: solvents, nitriles, asphyxiants and metals (mercury, tin, lead), according to JOEM.

Legal representation is important in a hearing-loss claim

Illinois workers’ compensation law governing occupational hearing loss is extremely complex and exacting. You will require thorough medical testing to determine whether your hearing loss meets specific levels and requirements for a valid claim. An attorney can assist in developing reliable medical evidence that contains all the different measurements and testing results necessary. There are sometimes difficult legal issues in these cases. For example, it could matter if you held a series of loud jobs, whether you know when your hearing loss started and its progression. Remember though, that workers’ compensation does not consider whose fault it might be that an employee got hurt or ill on the job, so do not let questions about whether you always wore your hearing protective equipment or whether your employer complied with safety regulations keep you from talking to a lawyer about your claim.


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