Helping South Carolina workers navigate workers’ comp claims for occupational hearing loss
In South Carolina, workplace hazards come in many forms, from operating heavy machinery to handling hazardous materials. However, one risk that often goes overlooked is the potential for hearing loss.
Each year, millions of workers nationwide are exposed to levels of noise and toxic chemicals that could be damaging to their hearing. In environments ranging from construction sites to sports venues, the threat of occupational hearing loss is real and often underestimated, so understanding your risks and rights is crucial.
Did you know?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 22 million workers are exposed to harmful noise levels at work each year.
What’s the effect of all this noise?
Well, the CDC reports that about 1 in 8 U.S. workers suffers from hearing problems, with noise exposure at work being the cause in 25% of cases.
Is hearing loss a workplace injury?
Yes, hearing loss can be considered a workplace injury if it occurs as a result of exposure to hazardous noise levels or ototoxic chemicals while on the job. In fact, occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related injuries in the U.S.
Employers are generally required to take preventive measures to protect workers from excessive noise and chemical exposure. This can include providing personal protective equipment like earplugs or respirator masks and implementing engineering controls to reduce noise levels.
What level of noise in the workplace is considered dangerous?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets guidelines for safe noise levels at work. The level of acceptable noise varies based on how long a worker is exposed.
For example, a noise level of 90 dBAs (which is roughly the noise produced by a blender or hair dryer) is considered safe for 8 hours a day, while a noise level of 115 dBAs (similar to that of a chainsaw or police siren) is only considered safe for 15 minutes or less.
OSHA advises workers that if they have to raise their voice to talk to someone who’s only a few feet away from them, they may be exposed to excessive noise at work.
What chemicals can lead to hearing loss?
Aside from noise, exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace can also contribute to hearing loss. These chemicals are referred to as “ototoxic” chemicals, meaning they are toxic to the ear and can damage the hearing or balance functions of the ear when they enter the bloodstream.
It’s important to note that workers can be exposed to these chemicals by breathing them in or absorbing them through their skin.
Below is a list of some ototoxic chemicals that could be encountered in various work settings:
- Organic solvents like toluene, xylene, trichloroethylene and styrene, which are common in paint thinners, varnishes and adhesives
- Heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium found in batteries, pigments and coatings
- Asphyxiants like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, which are often found in firefighting situations or in some industrial processes
- Pesticides like heptachlor and ethylbenzene
- Certain cancer drugs
Hearing loss can be even more of a concern when workers are exposed to a combination of ototoxic chemicals and high levels of noise. Both can have a synergistic effect, leading to more severe hearing loss than either would cause alone.
Therefore, it’s crucial for workplaces to monitor noise levels and chemical exposures and ensure workers use appropriate protective equipment to reduce their risks.
What occupations put workers at the highest risk for occupational hearing loss?
Certain occupations expose workers to higher risks of occupational hearing loss due to noise and/or chemical exposure. Some of the most high-risk jobs in terms of potential hearing loss include the following:
- Military personnel
- Chemical plant workers
- Automotive workers
- Workers in laboratories
Can you get compensation for hearing loss?
Yes, South Carolina workers can potentially get compensation for hearing loss if it’s determined to be a work-related injury. In South Carolina, employers with 4 or more employees are generally required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover their employees in the event of work-related injuries or occupational diseases or illnesses like hearing loss.
However, the key to receiving compensation lies in proving that the hearing loss is directly related to your workplace conditions or duties, which can sometimes be difficult because hearing loss can have many causes.
Consulting an attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation is often essential for navigating the complex claims process for hearing loss claims. An attorney can help you gather the necessary evidence, file the claim, and represent your interests to secure the best possible outcome.
Who determines if hearing loss is work-related?
Determining whether hearing loss is work-related usually involves a combination of medical evaluations and workplace assessments. In South Carolina, as in many other states, if you file a workers’ compensation claim for hearing loss, you will generally be required to be seen by a physician approved or chosen by your employer or their insurance company.
The employer-approved physician will conduct tests, such as audiograms, and evaluate your medical history and current symptoms. They will typically also consider the noise levels and potential chemical exposures in your workplace. Their findings will play a significant role in establishing whether your hearing loss is work-related.
If you disagree with the findings of the employer-approved physician, you may have the right to seek a second opinion, although the process for doing so can be complex and may require legal assistance.
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you navigate these challenges, advocate for your interests, and recommend additional evaluations by independent specialists to strengthen your claim.
What types of workers’ comp benefits am I entitled to for hearing loss?
If your hearing loss is determined to be work-related, you may be entitled to various types of workers’ compensation benefits, including:
- Medical benefits. These can cover the costs of diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care related to your hearing loss. This often includes the costs of hearing aids, fittings and any necessary adjustments or replacements.
- Wage loss benefits. If you need to take time off work for treatment or because your hearing loss impacts your ability to perform your job, you may be eligible for compensation to replace a portion of your lost wages.
- Vocational rehabilitation. If your hearing loss prevents you from returning to your previous job, you might be entitled to vocational rehabilitation services to help you train for a new position that accommodates your condition.
What do I need to do to file a workers’ comp claim in South Carolina?
To file a workers’ comp claim for hearing loss in South Carolina, you’ll need to follow a specific set of steps. Here’s what you need to do:
- Seek medical attention. The first step is to seek the medical care you need as soon as possible. Immediate medical evaluation and documentation can help establish the link between your hearing loss and your job, which is crucial for your claim.
- Report the injury to your employer. You must report your hearing loss to your employer as soon as you’re aware of it. In most cases, South Carolina law requires that you provide a written report within 90 days. Failing to do so within this timeframe could result in your claim being denied.
- Follow up with your claim. Once you’ve reported the injury, your employer is required to file a claim with their insurance company and notify the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. Make sure this happens; if your employer fails or refuses to file the claim, you can take matters into your own hands and file it yourself. This involves submitting Form 50 to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.
- Consult an attorney. If you encounter any difficulties—such as your employer not filing the claim or your claim being denied—it’s highly recommended that you consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. An attorney can help protect your rights, guide you through the legal process, and work to ensure that you receive the benefits you’re entitled to.
Get help with your work-related hearing loss claim from the experienced attorneys at Chappell, Chappell & Newman
If you’re experiencing hearing loss that you believe is related to your job, don’t wait to get the help you need. The experienced Columbia work injury attorneys at Chappell, Chappell & Newman can help you gather evidence to support your claim and negotiate with the insurance company to ensure you get maximum compensation.
Our firm has been successfully fighting for the rights of South Carolina workers for more than 30 years, and we’ll work tirelessly to get you the money you deserve.
Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation to learn more.
Noise & Hearing Loss Prevention: About Noise & Hearing Loss | NIOSH | CDC. (2021, October 29). www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/about.html
OSHA. (2019). 1910.95 – Occupational noise exposure. | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Osha.gov. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.95