Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the United States’ leading occupational injury in both prevalence and potential cost. There are millions of past and present employees with occupational hearing loss in America. Neglect of hearing loss, especially occupational hearing loss, has resulted in human and economic consequences that affect virtually every American household. This is especially regrettable since noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is almost always preventable at relatively little cost.


What is noise-induced hearing loss?

Every day, we experience sound in our environment, such as the sounds from television and radio, household appliances, and traffic. Normally, we hear these sounds at safe levels that do not affect our hearing. However, when we are exposed to harmful noise—sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time—sensitive structures in our inner ear can be damaged, causing NIHL. These sensitive structures, called hair cells, are small sensory cells in the inner ear that convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back.


What sounds cause NIHL?
NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense “impulse” sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as noise generated in a woodworking shop.
The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels. For example, normal conversation is approximately 60 decibels. Sources of noise that can cause NIHL include motorcycles, firecrackers, and small firearms, all emitting sounds from 120 to 150 decibels. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time period before NIHL can occur. Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss.


Although being aware of decibel levels is an important factor in protecting one’s hearing, distance from the source of the sound and duration of exposure to the sound are equally important.

 

Can NIHL be prevented in the Workplace?

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable with the right kind of protection – but sadly, many workers chronically exposed to high levels of noise on the job suffer permanent, irreparable hearing loss that could have been avoided. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets limits on occupational noise exposure, and in noisy workplaces requires periodic monitoring of noise levels. Workers in high-noise environments should also be periodically evaluated for possible hearing loss. Not all companies, unfortunately, take the necessary measures to protect their workers from high noise levels and the damage associated with these exposures.

 

Although the existence of NIHL was widely known in occupational medicine circles by about 1950, hearing conservation programs (HCPs) only began appearing in the industry during the 1950s and 1960s. Detailed specifications for HCPs were not promoted by OSHA until 1983, and they can be expensive, so there has been little financial incentive for industry to prevent NIHL.


Do I have NIHL?
An evaluation for monetary compensation of NIHL encompasses the following: (1) careful histories of the hearing loss, prior noise exposures, and any otologic complaints, (2) past medical history with emphasis on trauma, diseases, drugs, and inherited disorders that could contribute to hearing loss, (3) physical examination with emphasis on the ears and nasopharynx, and (4) audiometric testing. This evaluation does not take much time and it is painless.

Blackwell & Associates has established a comprehensive hearing loss evaluation program. We are dedicated to providing hearing evaluations for those workers who qualify for testing and have been exposed to high levels of occupational noise for many years.

 

What are my rights?
Even though recent legislative and legal developments have catapulted the problem of occupational hearing loss to national prominence, elimination of this occupational injury has been technologically possible for many years. The delay in addressing the issue effectively has been caused by legislative, economic, and political resistance as well as by a lack of scientific information adequate to formulate reasonable standards for hearing conservation and noise control programs.

 

The federal government showed its concern for this problem by establishing the Occupational Safety and Health Act Noise Regulation. This Act mandated some hearing conservation measures in every plant in the United States that produces over 85 dBA of noise for 8 hours daily.

 

The financial risks faced by companies with noise-exposed workers are increasing. More workers are filing for and receiving awards as awareness of NIHL spreads within the general population. Workers in industries not covered by workers’ compensation systems, like many in Louisiana, are suing their employers in court and receiving some very large judgments.

 

A conservative estimate of the potential cost of compensation for hearing loss in workers exceeds 20 billion dollars. This makes it the number one environmental and medico-legal problem in the United States. At least one company has had a hearing conservation program (HCP) for 40 years, established voluntary hearing safety programs and has virtually no occupational hearing loss in their employees.

 

Do I qualify to be tested?

To qualify to be tested, you must have worked for at least ten consecutive years (no breaks in service) prior to 1986 at one of the job sites listed below:


Company

Location

Bancroft Bag

West Monroe

Beaird Industries, Inc.

Shreveport

Boise Cascade

Deridder

Boise Cascade

Fisher

Boise Cascade

Florien

Boise Cascade

Oakdale

Crown Vantage

St. Francisville

Gaylord Bag

Monroe

Gaylord Container Corporation

Bogalusa

Georgia-Pacific Corporation

Port Hudson

Graphic Packaging International, Inc.

West Monroe

International Paper Company

Bastrop

International Paper Company

Mansfield

International Paper Company

Pineville

Company
Location

International Paper Company

Springhill

Louisiana-Pacific Corporation

Logansport

Louisiana-Pacific Corporation

Urania

Nicolaus Paper, Inc.

Lockport

Stone Container

Arcadia

Stone Container

Hodge

Temple-Inland

Dequincy

Weyerhaeuser

Holden

Willamette Industries, Inc.

Campti

Willamette Industries, Inc.

Dodson

Willamette Industries, Inc.

Lillie

Willamette Industries, Inc.

Ruston

Willamette Industries, Inc.

Simsboro

Willamette Industries, Inc.

Zwolle



At the testing, you will be provided with an audiogram free of charge. Results of the audiogram will not be available on the day of the testing. Following the testing, the audiogram will be sent to an audiologist to determine whether you have noise induced hearing loss. If you are diagnosed with NIHL, you will be mailed a copy of the medical documentation, a contract of representation and authorizations. If it is determined that you do not suffer from NIHL, you will be mailed a copy of the medical documentation along with recommendations for hearing conservation.

 

If you meet these criteria and wish to be tested, please contact Blackwell & Associates.