It’s estimated that one out of every five Bay Area residents experiences hearing loss. Many of these individuals can blame it on their jobs; occupational hearing loss is a concern for 22 million Americans who work in noisy professions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC warns of high-risk occupations that can lead to noise-induced hearing loss – a list that includes construction, mining, manufacturing, carpentry, military service and music. Hazardous noise levels in the workplace are the most common work-related injury and account for $242 million in annual workman’s compensation claims, according to the Department of Labor.
Even if you aren’t employed in one of these high-risk professions, you can still develop hearing loss if you aren’t careful. Exposure to a single, extremely loud noise, such as a gunshot or explosion, can cause instantaneous hearing loss. This can present many on-the-job challenges that affect performance – and potentially, your paycheck.
Hearing Loss Challenges on the Job
Of the approximately 48 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss, 60 percent are actively employed. Communication difficulties aren’t the only factor affecting these workers; people with untreated hearing loss earn an average of $20,000 less in salary per year versus those with hearing aids, according to a study by the Better Hearing Institute. Employers feel the effects of hearing loss in the workplace, as well, in the form of lost productivity and higher health care costs. Untreated hearing loss costs the U.S. an estimated $18 billion in federal income taxes.
Employees with hearing loss have options. OSHA requires employers in noisy workplaces to implement hearing protection protocols. If you already have hearing loss, work closely with management to ensure a positive workplace environment. You can request a quiet place to work free of noise and distraction, for instance. Employers must provide an equal opportunity workplace per the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the vast majority will be understanding and happy to accommodate special requests whenever possible. And if you don’t suffer from hearing loss but work with somebody who does, you can help them out by practicing the following communication tips:
- Face them when you speak in case they rely on lip-reading. Make sure your face is visible and well-lit during the conversation.
- Speak clearly, not loudly, and don’t jumble or slur your words. Repeat or rephrase as needed
- Keep phone calls to the individual brief and to the point and confirm any important information before hanging up.
- Be aware of extraneous workplace noise, especially in close proximity to their desk or office. Avoid impromptu conversations and talking over office partitions and cubicle walls.
Above all else, treat them with kindness and respect and give them tools that will help them be successful members of the team. A pleasant, welcoming work environment requires the effort of everybody, regardless of their ability to hear.