Is hearing loss covered by workers’ compensation?

From working the grounds of an airport to a construction worksite, many workers face regular exposure to loud workplaces year-round.

For these workers, this might be a normal part of the job. However, a loud workplace could pose a higher risk to workers than they might think. Hearing loss might be common as we age, but how much of that could be contributed to one’s work?

Occupational hearing loss is alarmingly common

Each year, roughly 22 million workers suffer exposure to dangerous noise levels in the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to:

  1. Provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as noise-canceling headphones or earplugs; and
  2. Implement hearing conservation programs that control dangerous noise levels and protect workers’ hearing.

And yet, 24% of workers with hearing loss sustained their hearing loss through work.

So, is occupational hearing loss covered by workers’ compensation?

The short answer is yes – in some cases, workers can pursue and collect workers’ compensation if they suffer occupational hearing loss.

However, North Carolina law has an extensive list of rules and criteria that workers must meet to recover compensation. These rules include, but are not limited to:

  • Workers’ compensation will not cover tinnitus or temporary hearing loss. It only covers the permanent partial or total occupational hearing loss.
  • Workers must be able to connect at least a majority of their hearing loss directly to their work.
  • Workers must wear PPE. If they do not take proper safety precautions to prevent hearing loss, they may not be able to collect compensation.
  • The harmful workplace noise causing the hearing loss must be more than 90 decibels. Additionally, the North Carolina Industrial Commission will only consider incidents of occupational hearing loss that occur at frequencies between 500 and 3,000 cycles per second.  The noise that causes this loss must be “prolonged.”  Other rules apply if the hearing loss is due to a one-time incident, such as an explosion.
  • In these cases, it will be crucial for a worker suffering a hearing loss to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help them understand their rights and obtain the compensation they need.

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