Working with Hearing Loss

By Katelyn Serpe

Since 1894, when Labor Day was named a federal holiday, the United States has celebrated the labor movement and the many contributions that workers have made in improving the lives of Americans across the country. Establishing a minimum wage and child labor laws are just a few of the accomplishments that have been made since the start of the labor movement.

Among these accomplishments are various workplace safety regulations, including recommendations for occupational noise exposure. Yet despite these regulations, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to noise levels high enough to cause hearing loss. With approximately 150 million Americans in the workforce, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. workers are exposed to noise levels high enough to cause hearing loss.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 24% of hearing loss in the United States has been a result of workplace exposure, yet people with a hearing loss are often hesitant to disclose their hearing loss in the workplace due to the associated stigmas. Some people with a hearing loss may not seek treatment immediately if they view their hearing loss as an unimportant issue. Yet others may not even be aware they have a hearing loss due to the low number of people who regularly receive hearing screenings.

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People with hearing loss are less likely to be in the labor force with nearly half (47%) of people with hearing loss not in the labor force compared with 23% of typical hearing individuals. And the unemployment rate for those with a hearing loss is nearly double that of the typical hearing population.

Having a hearing loss comes with its own challenges but an undisclosed hearing loss in the workplace can increase work-related stress and cause problems in the workplace. Most jobs require some form of verbal communication and an undisclosed hearing loss can decrease efficient verbal communication. This can result in incorrect work due to a lack of comprehension of verbal instructions or a general decrease in productivity. A person with undisclosed hearing loss may, therefore, lose out on promotions and possibly face a loss in annual wages. People with untreated hearing loss can lose as much as $30,000 in annual income and earn approximately 25% less than their typical-hearing peers.

Fortunately, the use of hearing aids has been shown to nearly eliminate the risk of income loss for those with milder hearing loss, and reduce the risk of income loss significantly for those with moderate to severe hearing loss. But while it may seem that the use of hearing aids is a solution for the risk of income loss for people with hearing loss, only 1 in 4 people who could benefit from hearing aids currently owns them.

Employers can help reduce the economic costs of hearing loss by creating environments where people with a hearing loss are unafraid to acknowledge their hearing loss. Making hearing tests part of a company wellness program, making sure hearing aids are covered by company insurance, and providing reasonable accommodations for those with hearing loss are some steps that employers can take to decrease the stigma of having a hearing loss in the workplace.

Through education and raising awareness about the prevalence of hearing loss among Americans, Hearing Health Foundation hopes to erase the stigmas surrounding hearing loss.

We hope you will join Hearing Health Foundation this Labor Day in celebrating the achievements made so far to improve the lives of working Americans while also encouraging further progress to improve American lives both in and out of the workplace.

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