Workplace Vision and Hearing Loss Injuries

Massachusetts’ workers compensation laws provide benefits to workers who suffer workplace vision and hearing loss injuries.  An injury is said to be work-related if it was sustained within the course and scope of employment.  Simply put, workers’ compensation benefits are awarded to those employees who are injured while on the job without regard to proving fault or negligence on the part of their employer or themselves. Massachusetts’ law provides several categories of financial and medical benefits for the injured worker who suffers from workplace vision and hearing loss.  Among them are Temporary Total Incapacity benefits, Partial Incapacity Benefits, Permanent and Total Incapacity Benefits, Permanent Loss of Function and Disfigurement Benefits and Medical Benefits.

Vision and Hearing Loss Lowell Workers' Compensation LawyerTemporary Total Incapacity benefits are awarded to employees who suffer an injury or illness which prevents their ability to work as they recover.  Generally, this benefit amounts to 60% of the employee’s gross average weekly wage, and can last for up to 156 weeks or until the employee is released to return to work; whichever is shorter.  This benefit is not payable until the injured worker has missed 5 days of work as a result of the incapacity.  If the worker is out for 21 days or longer, they are then entitled to payment for their initial 5 days of missed work.  For example, if an injured worker suffered an eye injury that forced them to miss thirty days of work, their temporary benefits would commence on day 6 and upon the 21st day off of work they would then be entitled to benefits for the initial 5 days missed.

Partial Incapacity benefits are available to an injured worker who is still able to work but sustain a loss to their earning capacity as they recover.  This benefit amounts to 75% of a worker’s Temporary Total Incapacity and may be payable for up to 260 weeks.

Permanent and Total Incapacity Benefits are available to injured workers who are totally and permanently disabled from any and all vocations as a result of their illness or injury. This benefit equals two-thirds of the workers’ gross average weekly wage and are payable for as long as the employee is disabled.

Permanent Loss of Function and Disfigurement Benefits are benefits paid to a worker whose illness or injury results in permanent impairment or loss of a specific bodily function.  This benefit is paid in addition to other benefits and the amount received is based on the severity of the permanent impairment sustained and is dependent upon the specific body part or function that sustained the loss.

Medical Benefits include all medical costs for treatment and prescriptions that are adequate and reasonable resulting for the illness or injury.  These benefits are sometimes said to be lifetime medical benefits for they are payable as long as treatment from the illness or injury is required.

Loss of Vision

Perhaps one of the most debilitating on-the-job injuries a worker can suffer is the loss of vision or eyesight.  Workplace vision and hearing loss can sideline a worker temporarily, permanently, and totally, and leave the worker with a permanent incapacity.  Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws provide benefits for the loss of vision or eyesight in one or both eyes.  Workplace vision and hearing loss can occur in a variety of ways such as from chemical or light exposure, and from acute traumatic events directly to the eyes or head.

Given the magnitude of the impact that a vision loss injury is likely to have on an injured worker’s ability to work following the injury, it is essential for a worker who sustains a vision injury to consult a knowledgeable attorney who can protect their rights and ensure they receive all of the maximum possible benefits available to them, as they very well may be precluded from doing some or all work for the rest of their lives depending on the severity of the injury.

Hearing Loss

When most people think of work-related or on-the-job injuries, they conjure up images of a slip and fall, a torn rotator cuff, a back injury such as a herniated disc, lacerations, amputations, concussions, and burns.  That is to say people tend to think of injuries that occur from one specific acute or traumatic workplace event.  They do not tend to think of work-related hearing loss, which is generally gradual in nature.  And while these one-time occupational injuries are commonplace due to the open and obvious nature of a one-time event, they may not be as prevalent as gradual occupational induced hearing loss, which impacts over twenty million workers every year!  Perhaps this is due to the often times gradual onset of work-related noise-induced hearing loss, which often manifests gradually after repeated and continuous daily exposure to workplace noise.  Workers are often unaware of the cause of their hearing loss as employers have little to no incentive to explain to their employees the devastating and permanent impact that industrial noise exposure has on their hearing.

The Mechanics of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Occupational noise-induced hearing loss refers to permanent and irreversible loss or reduction in one’s ability to hear that is generally a result of continued and elongated exposure to loud noise in the workplace.  Over time, loud noise damages tiny hair cells in the inner ear that conduct sound waves into the patterns of sound we then hear.  While most cases of permanent work-related hearing loss are gradual in nature as a result of continuous and prolonged exposure to loud noises, some instances of permanent work-related hearing loss arise from single events such as loud blasts or explosions, or physical ear trauma.

Occupational noise is gauged in terms of decibels of sound.  A soft whisper weighs in at about 40 decibels, typical conversation emits 60 decibels, a freight train resonates at 80 decibels, a boiler room resounds at 90 decibels, a typical construction site emits 100 decibels, heavy equipment operations resonate at 120 decibels, and a jet engine produces 130 decibels during take-off.

OSHA is the regulatory body that establishes rules and guidelines for the control of noise exposure in the workplace.  Per OSHA, the acceptable exposure limit to 90 decibels is 8 hours per day.  For every 5 decibel increase above 90 decibels an employee’s exposure period is halved.  For example at 95 decibels an employee’s exposure should not exceed 4 hours; at 100 decibels an employee’s exposure should not exceed 2 hours; and at 105 decibels an employee’s exposure should not exceed 1 hour.

OSHA mandates that employers take safeguards to protect employees from hearing loss in the form of Hearing Conservation Programs that insist that employers accurately gauge noise levels on the job site, provide employees with free yearly hearing check-ups and distribute hearing protection and noise attenuating equipment such as earplugs and other hearing protection devices. Notwithstanding OSHA’s mandates, in actual practice very few employers notify employees of OSHA’s standards, nor do most maintain accurate job-site noise surveys, bother to monitor an individual’s noise exposure, or take the time to notify or inform employees of the permanent deleterious impact and destruction that the workplace noise will have on an employee’s hearing. Some of the most common occupations and positions where permanent noise-induced hearing loss is documented and occurs include: factory workers, machinists, pipe fitters, airplane maintenance workers, heavy equipment operators, miners, truckers, boilermakers, and fire-fighters.

Effects of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

The resulting damage from exposure to loud occupational or industrial noise is permanent and irreversible hearing loss, which cannot be repaired.  Symptoms of work-related hearing loss may include the presence of a condition called tinnitus, whereby injured workers experience a ringing, buzzing, or muffling sound in their ears following exposure, which may be permanent.  Those who suffer noise induced hearing loss may experience profound short-term hearing loss upon leaving the job site at the end of the day.  Many workers with noise-induced hearing loss report that noise levels were so loud on the job that they had to communicate with co-workers by yelling, using hand gestures or written words on a clipboard. Those workers who suffer permanent noise-induced hearing loss may experience difficulty with speech discrimination in the course of conversational speech.  They may even have struggle hearing another’s voice on the telephone, or experience both psychological and physical stress, difficulty with concentration, anxiety, sleeplessness, and some even report vertigo-like symptoms or loss of the feeling of equilibrium.

Diagnosing Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Occupational noise-induced hearing loss can be diagnosed with an audiometric examination by an audiologist or a specialized physician called an otolaryngologist.   By taking an employee’s anecdotal history of workplace noise exposure and reviewing their audiogram, a medical professional can not only arrive at the diagnosis of work-related hearing loss, but can also assess the degree of permanent impairment related to the damage.  Additionally, certain audiometric patterns allow a specialist to distinguish noise-induced hearing loss from other types of loss, such as that resulting from the natural aging process.  Prior hearing tests, known as historical audiograms, are also used by health care professionals to assist in measuring the severity of the hearing loss sustained during a set timeframe for a given employee.  If the treating physician diagnoses work-related hearing loss, he or she may prescribe hearing aids that your employer is obligated to pay for the rest of the injured worker’s life.  It is not uncommon for these hearing aids to cost upwards of $3,000 to $5,000 and necessitate replacement throughout the injured worker’s lifespan.

Importance of Hiring a Skilled Workplace Vision and Hearing Loss Attorney

Employers and workers’ compensation insurance carriers fight tooth and nail to prevent providing benefits and compensation to workers who suffer work-related hearing loss.  Because in most cases, nearly all of their employees were exposed to injury levels of noise, they fear that if they pay out on one claim it will lead to a domino effect as it relates to other employees filing similar claims.  As such, it is common practice for them to deny an injured worker’s claim for workplace vision and hearing loss benefits.  They attempt to blame it on noise exposure outside the workplace or even attempt to blame it on the workers’ prior employers.

Because of the tenacity with which employers and workers comp insurance carriers fight and deny hearing loss claims, it is vital for the injured worker to procure a skilled Massachusetts workers’ compensation hearing loss attorney experienced in handling these tricky cases.  An experienced workplace vision and hearing loss attorney will protect all of your rights to make sure that your claim is not only properly and timely filed in accordance with the law, but will assure that the claim is made against the proper employer and that you get all of the maximum benefits available to you under the law.  Additionally, a skilled and experienced workplace vision and hearing loss injury attorney will be able to protect you from the defenses and technicalities the employer or workers’ comp insurance carrier are sure to raise in an attempt to deny you the benefits, to which you are legally entitled.

If you or a loved one suffered a workplace vision and hearing loss injury, contact experienced Lowell workers’ compensation lawyer Jeffrey A. Young for a free consultation. Let his experience work for you.

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