Maritime work is dangerous work and people employed on ships in ports and on offshore oil rigs and platforms face a number of potential accidents, injuries, and illnesses. While workers may fear things like falling overboard, loss of limbs from equipment accidents, or vessel sinking and capsizing accidents, many more will fall victim to hearing loss.
Some of the jobs that maritime workers do involve loud sounds, and hearing loss over years of doing these kinds of jobs is a very real possibility. While some may experience only minor loss of hearing, other workers may almost completely lose the ability to hear. Either way the loss can be devastating and have a huge impact on a person’s future. 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 percent of the population will eventually lose some hearing ability as they age. Aging is not the only cause of hearing loss, though. Being exposed to loud sounds, over long periods of time, can cause it as well, as can blows to the head. Chronic noise exposure is common in many maritime jobs and accidents that cause head trauma are possible as well.
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 small 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, if you turn up the volume on the radio or TV more than you used to, and if you start to avoid social situations because you have a hard time following conversations.
Treatment for Hearing Loss
Unfortunately the type of hearing loss that you are likely to experience from years on the job in your maritime position is not reversible. The kind of damage that is caused to the nerves and hairs of the inner ear cannot be corrected easily or completely. There are treatments that can help, though, so not all hope is lost. Corticosteroid medications can reduce swelling in the inner ear that may improve hearing and hearing aids can be used to 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 are the sensational types of dangers that are terrible when they occur, but they overshadow other risks that are not as newsworthy.
Noise is a major health hazard because it causes hearing loss. Various types of maritime worker are exposed to loud sounds and noise from various sources. These include large diesel engines, turbines, cargo cranes, fishing equipment and processing equipment, and others.
Maritime Work and Protecting Your Ears
There are workplace safety limits on 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 special 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 in order to reduce noise on board. In addition to preventing too much noise in the first place, maritime workers should be provided with the right 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 of those types of workplace injuries that are 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 report on accidents or injuries within a certain period of time. There are exceptions for things like hearing loss. These limitations are typically extended for an injury, like hearing loss, whose origins only become obvious 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 cause do 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 past the statute of limitations. As long as 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 important in proving that your injury was caused by your workplace. The next step you should take is to contact a maritime lawyer. This professional understands maritime law and can help you figure out which of the many laws applies to you.
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 serious medical condition and it impacts your well-being. Getting compensation may mean being able to afford better treatments and not needing to simply accept living out your life without being able to hear.