Hearing loss is an often-overlooked risk for many employers. Industries that are accustomed to loud noises—first responders, manufacturing, or construction, for example—are accustomed to treating hearing loss as a serious workplace hazard. But employers in many other industries can lose sight of noise and other hearing hazards when they are mixed with other, more apparent dangers. Temporary staffing firms should give thought to how they protect their employees against hearing loss as part of their broader risk management programs.
How workers’ compensation evaluates hearing loss
Work-related hearing loss is a tricky issue for workers’ compensation programs. Hearing loss can have several distinct root causes within the ear, and can be due to a mixture of workplace exposure to loud noises or physical injuries, the employee’s lifestyle outside of work, and genetic factors. That makes it more challenging to handle than a conventional injury like a broken bone.
Workers’ compensation laws vary on how they treat hearing loss. In some states, hearing loss is excluded from mandatory coverage. Others require employers to insure their employees on a percentage loss basis, which means that the employee must be insured for workplace injuries that result in a measurable percentage of degradation in their hearing. For example, an employee may be tested before starting work as having a ten percent hearing loss. After being close to an extremely loud explosion, the employee’s hearing loss is measured as forty percent. In some states, the employer would be required to provide benefits to help the employee recover the thirty percent gap that can be attributed to the workplace event.
What steps can a staffing firm take?
There are several concrete steps that temporary staffing firms can take to reduce their risks associated with potential hearing loss among employees. The specific steps a firm should take will depend on the industries it serves. For example, a business with clients in construction likely will be subject to OSHA and other stringent hearing safety rules. But even these businesses can benefit from considering steps like these:
- Ask employees to undergo pre-employment hearing exams as well as periodic update exams to establish baselines against which an injury can be measured. This can protect the company from being held responsible for an employee’s existing hearing loss.
- Train employees in hearing safety.
- Ensure that employees have access to hearing safety equipment while working at client sites. If the client does not provide such equipment, the staffing firm may need to provide it, or work with the client to update its safety standards.
- Include noise exposure as part of routine evaluations of client worksites to ensure that hearing hazards are included in the engagement’s safety plan.
Gunnin Insurance is the staffing industry’s risk management expert
At Gunnin, we help clients evaluate their existing risk management programs to identify gaps and achieve better outcomes. Our hands-on team can help your firm examine its exposure to risks like hearing injuries and take proactive steps to reduce its financial risk. To learn more, call Gunnin today.