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Hearing Loss

There are many ways employees can become injured while on the job. So long as a workplace accident or work-related injury is a major cause of an employee’s disability, an employee will be entitled to partial or total incapacity benefits, depending on the extent of the disability. For example, if a plaintiff cannot do any work as a result of injuries sustained on the job, he or she would be entitled to total incapacity benefits.

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 152, Section 34, an employee completely unable to work is entitled to receive a weekly disability check. The amount of this weekly benefit is calculated by taking the average weekly wage (AAW) of the employee prior to the accident, and subtracting 40 percent.

If an employee is partially disabled due to an on-the-job injury, and he or she can no longer work at the same job as before the injury, the employee may be entitled to partial disability workers’ compensation benefits. The amount the employee is entitled to receive under partial disability is calculated by taking the employee’s AWW prior to becoming injured and multiplying it by 45 percent. If the employee begins working while partially disabled, but earns less than what they were earning prior to the work accident, the employee may also be entitled to partial disability benefits. Under this scenario, the amount the employee would receive is calculated by subtracting the employee’s current wages from the AWW prior to the accident, and then multiplying that by 60 percent.

In addition to standard weekly wage loss benefits and payment for medical expenses, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 152, Section 36 provides for benefits for specific injuries. This can include partial or total amputation of a limb or extremity such as an arm, leg, hand, foot, finger, or toe. Employees do not actually have to suffer a loss of the limb itself, as a loss of function to a limb will also allow for the payment of special benefits. There are also special injury benefits paid for loss of hearing, loss of vision, and some types of disfigurement injuries, depending on where the disfigurement is located on the body.

Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Section 36 of Chapter 152, hearing loss in in a single ear will allow for specific injury benefits. The amount an employee will receive is calculated by taking the State Average Weekly Wage (SAWW) and multiplying it by 29. The SAWW is determined each year by a state governing body, and the most recent one at the time of the workplace accident is used in the calculations, meaning if the amount has increased since that accident, the lesser amount will be the figure used.

If there is hearing loss in both ears, the SAWW will be multiplied by a figure of 77 in order to determine how much the employee is entitled to. This money will be paid in addition to any standard workers’ compensation award for lost wages and the payment of medical bills. These special injury benefits pursuant to Section 36 of Chapter 152 are typically paid as a one-time lump sum payment as opposed to the weekly payment of benefits with standard Boston workers’ compensation benefits.

Hearing Loss Due to Noise

According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), hearing loss is one of the most common occupational injuries. Hearing loss due to work can be caused by numerous factors, such as toxic chemical exposure or working in a loud environment. NIOSH estimates that more than 30 million U.S. employees are exposed to chemicals known to be hazards to the human ear. NIOSH statistics similarly indicate that there are around 22 million employees in the U.S. alone that are exposed to hazardous noise levels during the course of their employment. That means that combining just workers exposed to loud noises and toxic chemicals, 52 million U.S. employees face hazardous hearing conditions while working, never mind the numerous others that suffer ear injuries through other types of work accidents.

It is recommended that workers not be subjected to dangerous noise levels without wearing proper ear protection. Experts recommend a maximum safe level for routine exposure as being 85 decibels over an eight-hour time period. Once a worker is exposed to levels above 85 decibels, it is possible hearing damage is being done. To avoid this, employees who work in loud environments should wear NIOSH approved hearing protection. This can include inner ear protection such as foam or silicon plugs if the levels are not too much higher than 85 decibels, or over the ear prevention devices, similar to earmuffs, in higher decibel areas.

If the noise levels are extremely loud, such as those generated in some factories and in the military from heavy machine guns and artillery, it is recommended that earplugs be worn under the over-the-ear protection devices. One of the most common occupations for hearing loss involves working in the trucking industry, as eighteen-wheelers produce significant noise, as well as the noisy environments truck drivers face once arriving at delivery factories and warehouses. There are also occupations that involve working around large moving machinery which can often generate a significant amount of noise. For example, working at an airport directing traffic involves exposing workers to loud jet engines, and adequate hearing protection is required at all times to reduce the threat to one’s hearing.

Construction work is another type of occupation that often subjects workers to extremely loud noises. A jack hammer on asphalt or concrete is so loud that even other workers in the near vicinity may be getting exposed to 120 to 130 decibels, well above the safe limit of 85. Often, the equipment operator will be wearing proper hearing protection, but those working near the area may not.

Measure of Hearing Loss

To submit a workers’ compensation claim for hearing loss, records substantiating not only that hearing loss has occurred, but also the level of hearing loss must be included. This typically includes a hearing test administered by an audiologist or doctor showing the percentage of hearing loss and the frequency of hearing loss. This can be assessed in terms of decibels and hertz measurements. Prior hearing tests are also beneficial in proving that the work itself was the cause of any hearing loss, and in measuring how much of a loss has occurred.

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