Hearing loss is common in maritime workers because many jobs involve loud equipment and environments. While some may experience only minor hearing loss, other workers may almost completely lose hearing ability. If you have experienced any hearing loss because of your maritime work, you may be able to get compensation thanks to maritime law.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Aging-related hearing loss is not uncommon. As much as 25% of the population will eventually lose some hearing ability as they age.
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Aging is not the only cause of hearing loss, though. Exposure to loud sounds over long periods and blows to the head can cause hearing loss. Chronic noise exposure is daily in many maritime jobs. Accidents that cause head trauma are also possible.
Hearing loss caused by noise exposure or head trauma is called sensorineural, a type of hearing loss related to problems in the inner ear. Noise, over time, can cause damage to the nerve cells and tiny hairs in the inner ear that send sound signals to the brain.
You may realize you have hearing loss of this type if you constantly need to ask people to repeat what they say or if you turn up the volume on the radio or TV more than you used to. You may also avoid social situations because you have a hard time following conversations.
Treatment for Hearing Loss
Unfortunately, the type of hearing loss you will likely experience from years on the job in your maritime position is irreversible. The kind of damage caused to the nerves and hairs of the inner ear cannot be corrected easily or entirely.
Some treatments can help, though, so not all hope is lost. Corticosteroid medications can reduce swelling in the inner ear, which may improve hearing, and hearing aids can amplify sound so you can hear better.
Noise in the Maritime Industry
When most people think about the dangers and risks of maritime work, they think of things like ships sinking out at sea, accidents with fishing equipment, crane accidents in ports, or falls into cargo holds.
These sensational types of dangers are terrible when they occur, but they overshadow other risks that are not as newsworthy.
Noise is a significant workplace health hazard because it causes hearing loss. Various types of maritime workers are exposed to loud sounds and noise from multiple sources:
Maritime Work and Protecting Your Ears
Workplace safety limits dictate how much noise workers and passengers on ships can be exposed to. The limits are set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The acceptable maximum levels are louder than on land to account for the unique nature of maritime environments. For example, a workshop on land should be no louder than 70 decibels, but 85 decibels are considered acceptable on a vessel. On shore, sleeping areas should be 45 decibels or less, while on a ship, they can be as high as 60 decibels.
The IMO has also set mandatory requirements for how ships should be constructed to reduce noise on board.
In addition to preventing too much noise in the first place, maritime workers should be provided with the proper safety gear to protect their ears and the training necessary to understand how and when to use that equipment.
What to Do if You Lose Hearing Because of Your Maritime Job
Hearing loss is one type of workplace injury that is not usually immediately obvious. There are maritime laws that allow workers like you to seek compensation for injuries that you know were caused by your workplace.
They have statutes of limitation that require you to report accidents or injuries within a certain period. There are exceptions for things like hearing loss.
These limitations are typically extended for an injury, like hearing loss, whose origins only become apparent years after initial exposure or a period of exposure.
For instance, if you work aboard a vessel and qualify as a seaman, exposure to engine noise over the years may have caused you to become hard of hearing as you approach retirement. If you weren’t diagnosed earlier with hearing loss or found to have hearing loss caused by your work, you are not considered to have passed the statute of limitations.
If you act on a diagnosis as soon as you get it, you can file a claim within the limitations and have a good chance of getting compensation.
If you suspect you have hearing loss because of noise exposure on the job, the first thing you should do is see your doctor and get medical records that prove it was most likely caused by years of exposure at work. These records will be vital in establishing that your workplace caused your injury.
The next step you should take is to contact a maritime lawyer. This professional understands maritime law and can help you determine which laws apply to you.
Getting compensation may mean being able to afford better treatments and not needing to accept living out your life without being able to hear. Your lawyer will also help you file a claim and can even represent you in front of your employer, your employer’s insurer, in arbitration hearings, and in court if it comes to that. Losing hearing is a severe medical condition, and it impacts your well-being.