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Hearing protectors for workers with hearing loss

Employers in North Carolina may be aware that OSHA has no specific guidelines for how to protect employees with some level of hearing loss. OSHA does recommend, however, that such employees be fitted with the appropriate hearing protectors: devices that enhance audibility by reducing sounds of certain frequencies.

The average hearing protector will reduce sounds at high frequencies, which is a problem because a great deal of speech information resides at these high frequencies. However, a uniform-attenuation hearing protector can reduce sounds of all frequencies and so benefit workers by making speech sound clearer and more natural.

Even better are those systems with a level-dependent function to amplify low-level sounds and keep high-level sounds from exceeding a particular limit. These systems are called active hearing protectors or electronic earmuffs, and they almost always require a power source in order to work. Wearing even a passive earmuff, though, can be to workers' advantage if workers already wear a hearing aid.

In fact, it is a bad idea to wear hearing aids in a noisy work environment without some kind of earmuff. Workers should not choose a hearing protector until they have discussed the issue with their audiologist. Everything depends on the job site's noise levels, the level of hearing loss, individual preferences and other factors.

Workers may have adequate hearing protection and still be injured in other ways. Under workers' compensation law, those who are injured on the job may receive wage replacement and be covered for the cost of medical treatments as well as short- or long-term disability leave, if applicable, but they are not guaranteed benefits. Having a lawyer might be necessary, especially when the employer does decide to fight the claim. A lawyer may also explain the process of settling a claim.

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