How Hearing Loss May Affect Your Job

How Hearing Loss May Affect Your Job

Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A Hearing Loss

Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A

Untreated hearing loss can severely damage workplace performance. Employers in the United States are required to reasonably accommodate any employee with a hearing disability. The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act also prevents employers from discriminating against applicants who may have a hearing disability. Many people are born deaf, but others lose their hearing later in life. A hearing impairment makes it harder for employees to communicate information in the workplace. Office jobs typically require consistent communication between different departments. People with partial hearing loss may want to consider wearing hearing aids at the office. Those who are completely deaf will have a bigger communication barrier to deal with. These workers may choose jobs that require email communication. Some companies believe strongly in disability inclusion. They may hire full time interpreters to help deaf workers communicate with those who do not understand sign language.

It’s certainly very important for deaf employees to communicate questions or concerns they may have relating to job performance. A deaf employee should ideally feel as though he is able to perform at the same level as everyone else in the company. If problems persist, then the employee should talk to a manager about actions that can be taken to improve the situation. Inclusion is very important in the modern workplace. If hearing loss is somewhat treatable, then the employee should take logical steps necessary to treat the problem. If the employee’s hearing loss is untreatable, then the business should cooperate while dealing with any questions or concerns the employee may have.

If hearing loss is sudden, then the employee may need to explain to the employer any factors that may affect future job performance. In some cases, the employee may need to be moved to a different position within the company. Pilot and driving jobs typically have minimal hearing requirements to ensure the safety of passengers. Emergency service personnel need to be able to hear people calling for help at a distance. Other positions will typically require minor adjustments. People who work in factories and warehouses should typically be able to meet basic job requirements. Employers may reshuffle the structure of the workspace to ensure employee needs are met in the best manner possible. Quality employers should be able to accommodate people with hearing loss without sacrificing workplace productivity. The key is to look at the entire infrastructure of the business and make changes that meet the needs of all internal and external stakeholders.

People who experience hearing loss should see an audiologist or ear, nose and throat doctor. Partial hearing loss may be treated with a cochlear implant or hearing aid. Applicants should disclose a hearing disability to an employer before they are hired at a company. This will give the company time to make reasonable accommodations to meet employee needs. Employers may want to develop specific business protocols to accommodate deaf employees.

Many people are subjected to loud noise in the workplace. 11 percent of workers have some level of hearing difficulty, and about one quarter of these workers lost their hearing from activities performed at work. Workers often lose their hearing due to loud noises, and others may be exposed to chemicals that impair their hearing over time. Ototoxic chemicals that damage hearing include mercury, lead and carbon monoxide. Noise over 85 decibels can damage hearing, so people working in environments with noises this loud should wear ear plugs.

Approximately 32 million workers in the United States work in environments that put them at risk for hearing loss. Most hearing loss is permanent, and there is a strong correlation between hearing loss and depression. Workers who lose their hearing may feel isolated because it harder to communicate with coworkers and family members. Hearing loss may result in tinnitus issues. This condition causes people to hear a constant ringing in their ears. Workers comp doesn’t cover hearing loss in every state.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires all employers to utilize a hearing protection program for workplace sounds that exceed 85 decibels, but not all businesses make an extreme effort to follow OSHA regulations. Employees should report businesses if they are not making an effort to meet these legal requirements. Companies that do not follow standard OSHA procedures may eventually become subject to hefty fines and lawsuits.