“We could very well see hearing loss problems continue to increase into future generations,” Louise Vallee told a room full of safety professionals at a recent seminar, according to a press release from the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.

Vallee, vice president, Chubb & Son, and executive research and development specialist for Chubb’s loss control unit, led a seminar, “Can You Hear Me Now? Articulating Noise Assessments and Hearing Loss,” at Safety 2009, this year’s American Society of Safety Engineers conference. “Baby Boomers have attended rock concerts and engaged in noisy recreational activities for nearly 50 years,” she said. Recent studies indicate that close to 40 million baby boomers are experiencing some degree of hearing loss — twice as many as expected. “Gen Xers and Millennials who are constantly connected to their iPods and cell phones may also be at risk,” Vallee added. “Safety engineers need to educate corporate executives on recreational hearing loss issues, which further support the need for hearing conservation programs for the workplace.”

Approximately 30 million American employees are exposed to excessive workplace noise, according to OSHA. In addition to causing communication difficulties between coworkers, hearing loss affects personal relationships and creates feelings of isolation. Particularly in industrial settings like manufacturing and construction, employers need to be aware of regulations concerning noise hazards and monitor workplace conditions accordingly.

“The rule of thumb is that if the environment requires somebody to ‘speak up’ in order to be heard, there is probably a need to conduct noise monitoring to ensure compliance with OSHA standards,” said Vallee.

Vallee offered the following tips to employers to help reduce occupational hearing loss and related workers compensation claims:
  • Conduct baseline audiogram hearing tests for new employees to detect pre-existing hearing loss;
  • Implement annual hearing tests for employees exposed to noise exceeding the OSHA action levels;
  • Use annual employee hearing conservation training as an opportunity to educate employees about the potential risks associated with recreational noise;
  • When purchasing new equipment, carefully evaluate noise control features; and
  • Provide a variety of hearing protection devices and train employees on proper fit.
“Chronic overexposure to noise can result in irreversible hearing loss known as a Permanent Threshold Shift,” said Vallee. “Workers’ compensation benefits for hearing loss are determined by state, and could cost employers from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars. It is imperative that employers recognize the hazards of noise exposure and inform and protect their employees.”