A retired employee wants workers’ comp benefits for hearing loss due to workplace noise exposure decades ago. How can you tell if that’s the cause, or if it’s normal hearing loss due to age?
This retiree worked in a pulp mill from 1957 to 1993 in Alberta, Canada. In his 36 years on the job, he was exposed to 85 or more decibels for 8 to 12 hours per day. In his early working years, hearing protection (ear plugs) weren’t provided.
Despite being aware of hearing loss for years, it was almost 20 years after his retirement at the age of 79 before he sought medical attention for it.
After being diagnosed with hearing loss, the retiree sought workers’ comp benefits. To receive benefits, he must show the hearing loss arose out of and occurred in the course of employment.
A panel heard his case and determined the hearing loss wasn’t due to employment, rather it was due to his age.
The retiree took his case to the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission.
The commission noted occupational noise-induced hearing loss is usually accompanied and often obscured by age-related hearing loss.
For younger people (younger than 59), occupational hearing loss is usually the dominant factor. For older people (older than 70), age-related hearing loss is usually dominant.
The effects of occupational hearing loss decelerate with age while the effects of aging accelerates.
The retiree was examined by an otolaryngologist (ears-nose-throat doctor) who determined his hearing loss was 76% due to old age and 24% due to his previous work.
The commission noted that, under the law, if the hearing loss is in part due to occupational factors, there should be workers’ comp benefits for the portion due to noise exposure in the work environment.
The ruling: The retiree is entitled to review for appropriate treatment and benefits for the occupational noise-inducted hearing loss.
What do you think about this decision? Let us know in the comments.
(Appeal Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation, Decision No. 2014-0012, 1/22/14)