By: Chris Morse
Age-related hearing loss gradually occurs in most people as they grow older but some industries see a higher rate of hearing loss earlier in employee’s lifespan due to job-related functions. According to the CDC, “Twenty-two million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise each year”.
Due to the long-term and repetitive nature of occupational noise, hearing loss may develop over time and these types of injuries are referred to as Cumulative Trauma claims. To minimize risk, occupational exposure limits for workplace noise is set at 85 decibels (dBA) with a maximum duration of 8 hours. Those guidelines, in conjunction with these steps can help prevent a cumulative trauma hearing loss claim.
1. Establish a written hearing conservation program for all workers with average exposure at or above the action level of 85 decibels.
2. Conduct regular noise monitoring and sound level reporting at your location quarterly, and share the findings with your employees.
3. Reduce noise using engineering controls when levels are above the exposure limit.
4. Offer hearing tests to your employees, especially new hires.
5. Reduce noise by minimizing vibration of work spaces such as adding a layer of plywood or rubber matting to tables.
6. Provide ear muffs or ear plugs to all employees and rotate workers out of noisy areas.
You may be curious why offering hearing tests to new hires made the list. It’s on there because your 2017 experience mod is based on your experience history from 2013, 2014 and 2015.
So how does a three-year experience history affect a current claim? Simple, because a Cumulative Trauma claim typically has no specific “event date”, it can impact your experience mod for several years.
Let’s break it down with this example:
Say an employee that has worked for you since 2013 goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with 50% hearing loss and the injured worker opens a workers compensation claim with your current carrier.
The current carrier knows that this type of claim should cost about $20k so they open the claim and enter a reserve amount of $20k and immediately open a subrogation file for the previous year’s carriers.
Each carrier could reserve the same $20k (they will over-reserve because they have not yet gone to a judge to determine what the real exposure will be for them).
· Losses for 2013 - $20k
· Losses for 2014 - $20k
· Losses for 2015 - $20k
Because there wasn’t any way to gauge the “date” when the hearing loss occurred, instead of just one year at $20k, you are now looking at $60k to cover the 3 years of the experience mod. This could result in a tremendous increase in your x-mod.
That’s why the preventative measure of providing hearing tests to all new hires is recommended. It’s one way to minimalize cumulative trauma claims for hearing. By having these early benchmarks, you can limit your exposure down the road, because you have the data to better narrow down the “event” date.
Additionally, without testing and benchmarks in place, hearing loss claims are fodder for disingenuous groups that prey on corporations, providing advertisements and links with steps on how to get money for hearing loss. Protecting your business against this type of fraud is imperative.
With early testing, taking preventative steps and protective measures, and having proper insurance coverage, you can better focus on keeping your business running and employees healthy.
For more information, contact one of our professional advisors at Recycle Insurance. We have extensive knowledge of your industry-specific nuances and coverage requirements and are proud to offer our exclusive package programs to California for our Recycling Clients.