The Law Office of Michael J. Joshi
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Beware -- protecting your hearing may be life threatening

Exposure to excessive noise can have severe long-term consequences. Are you working in an industry that could harm your hearing? Some believe the solution is a simple matter of wearing earplugs or muffs. However, depending on your workplace environment, you may be at risk of losing your life if you cannot hear approaching dangers.

When you wear ear protection, it will reduce your auditory awareness significantly, and it may leave you unable to avoid other potential hazards. Your employer must establish protocols to ensure your safety at such times. An example is a worker wearing earplugs while operating a jackhammer who will be run over by a 10-ton truck without ever knowing of its approach.

When does noise pose a danger?

According to the safety regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 85dBA is the limit. Any noise that exceeds that level of decibels is hazardous. However, how can you judge the noise level without an instrument to measure it? A simple test is to talk to a co-worker who is about an arm's length (two to three feet) away. If he or she cannot hear you unless you raise your voice, then the noise level is likely at a dangerous level.

How can you protect yourself?

Your employer must comply with federal and state safety regulations, under which wearing ear protection is not optional. So, before inserting those earplugs, be aware of your surroundings and identify hazards. The best bet might be for your boss to provide caution tape to create a safe workspace for all to see.

It may also be wise to make sure all other employees are aware of your activities and the fact that you will not be able to hear approaching dangers. Those working nearby can warn you of the danger -- or they can warn approaching vehicles. You can also work out a set of hand signals to use as communication with others.

The dual risk of excessive noise

Not only does excessive noise in your workplace threaten your hearing, but it also can threaten your life. Wearing earplugs will protect your ears but could endanger your life, while going without protection may damage your hearing but could allow you to avoid physical injuries. Due to this double-edged sword so to speak, it only makes sense for you to be aware of the compensation you can claim from the workers' compensation insurance program if you should suffer injuries in the workplace.

You may need to seek the help of an experienced workers' compensation attorney -- especially if you want to claim benefits for loss of hearing. Because hearing loss is a condition without a date on which the injury occurred, showing that it was work related might be challenging. With professional support and guidance, you may receive benefits to cover medical expenses and loss of income.

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