Current workplace rules established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dictate that workers who are exposed to noise levels of 90 decibels must wear hearing protection after eight hours. If the noise level increases to 95 decibels, maximum exposure times without protection gets cut in half to just four hours. Many other countries, and even other groups within the U.S., however, think this level of regulation does not adequately protect employees from workplace hearing loss.
Stricter standards employed by other agencies rule that employees cannot be exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels for more than eight hours. Agencies have also concluded that risks for hearing loss double with three, not five, decibel increases. Laura Kauth, president of the National Hearing Conservation Association says, "The general consensus of professionals in the hearing-health field is that we should limit (exposure) at 85 decibels."
So how has the main body charged with protecting employees from work related injuries fallen behind standard practice on safeguarding employee's hearing? One problem is lack of national focus on the issue. The only body operating at the federal level devoted to hearing protection is the Office of Noise Abatement and Control; it lost financing thirty years ago.
Another factor that complicates matters is the interests of big business. In 2010, OSHA made an attempt to begin enforcing long-overlooked regulations which required employers to soundproof noisy workplaces, rather than just providing employees with hearing protection. As soon as the proposal was made however, both the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce voiced loud opposition to enforcing the rule, claiming following those guidelines would prove too costly to employers. The proposal was quickly withdrawn by OSHA, just a month after its introduction.
Given the lack of funding and big industry opposition to change, it is no wonder that the hearing protection laws in this country remain substandard. Without a change in the standards for workplace noise levels, and without a determination to enforce those standards, employees in many different environments will continue to face the risk of on-the-job hearing loss. If you or a loved one has suffered from impaired hearing as a result of employer negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the workplace injury office of Arnold & Itkin today for a free consultation.