HEARING LOSS BENEFITS UNDER THE PENNSYLVANIA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ACT
Hearing loss benefits are considered a specific loss under the Workers’ Compensation Act. If an employee has been exposed to hazardous occupational noise, which has caused at least 10 percent binaural (both ears) hearing loss, the employer is responsible to pay benefits under the Act. While a single episode of hazardous noise, a blow horn or sudden release of dangerous noise, can be compensable, the vast majority of hearing loss claims involve long term exposure to hazardous occupational noise at 80 decibels or above.
Because almost all occupational hearing loss is due to long term exposure to continuous damaging noise, the hearing that is lost is in the lower frequencies. For example, most audiograms measure hearing at the following decibel levels: 250, 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000, and 7000. However, for a calculation of what would be considered occupational hearing loss, scores that are recorded at the 500, 1000, 2000, and 3000 are added together for each ear. These totals for each ear then placed on a chart provided in the Workers’ Compensation Act to arrive at a percentage of hearing loss—again, the loss must meet or exceed 10 percent on the chart.
So, if you are experiencing hearing loss from working in a noisy environment, you may have a compensable claim. Typical signs of hearing loss include: having people repeat themselves, needing a high volume of the television or radio to understand what is being said, trouble discerning conversations with background noise present. A claim found compensable under the Act provides medical benefits for the injured worker. These benefits include doctor visits, hearing aids, and batteries for hearing aids. Specific loss wage loss benefits are also provided. Since the worker has lost a percentage of his/her hearing forever, that percentage of hearing loss due to work is then awarded pursuant to a number of weeks of workers’ compensation wage loss benefits. The weeks awarded is based typically on two thirds of one’s gross weekly wage (aka compensation rate). For example, if the number of weeks awarded would be 50 weeks and the worker’s gross weekly wage was $1000 a week ($666 would be 2/3 and thus the compensation rate), the one-time specific loss compensation for the hearing loss would be $33,300.
If you feel you have suffered occupational hearing loss, you should contact an attorney specialized in this practice. It is a very niche area of law in the Commonwealth. Most companies that have noisy environments give yearly audiograms to their employees. Have some of the most recent audiograms evaluated by an attorney to see if there is a compensable claim for occupational hearing loss.