Nevada’s workers’ compensation laws treat hearing loss as an occupational disease. Like some other kinds of disease, such as cancer, hearing loss can raise challenging evidentiary problems for workers who seek workers’ compensation coverage. A sudden, catastrophic loss of hearing caused by a single loud noise is relatively straightforward. But often hearing degrades over the course of routine exposure to loud sounds, like noisy engines, sirens, or gun shots. When the hearing loss is due to an accumulation of small incidents, proving that the employer is responsible can be a challenge.
The types of hearing loss
A good starting point for anyone thinking about how hearing loss relates to workers’ compensation is to understand the kinds of hearing loss. Hearing loss is divided into three types. Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the outer or middle ear that prevent some frequencies from reaching the inner ear, where sounds are converted into electrical signals that the brain interprets. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by things like ear infections, fluid from colds, or punctured ear drums. Exposure to loud noise doesn’t cause conductive hearing loss. Work-related conductive hearing loss would need to involve something more than just noise: an object getting stuck in the outer ear, for example.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the second type. It takes place in the inner ear and can be caused by aging, genetic predisposition, or illnesses. It can also be caused by exposure to loud noises, making it the more likely type of hearing loss to be covered by workers’ compensation.
The third type of hearing loss is a mix of the first two. Someone who has noise-related damage to the inner ear and routine fluid buildup in the middle ear due to allergies might be diagnosed with mixed hearing loss. In these cases, the challenge is to allocate the relative significance of the two (or more) causes of hearing loss. An audiologist may be able to distinguish between different causes and provide a diagnosis of the extent to which sensorineural hearing loss is a factor.
Where the work is loud, problems arise
Employers that regularly expose their workers to loud noises are routinely advised, and in some cases required, to put their employees through pre-employment hearing tests (or audiograms). A test at the beginning of employment provides a baseline that serves at least two important purposes. First, it relieves the employer of any obligation for covering existing hearing loss that might have occurred at the employee’s prior jobs. Second, it can serve as evidence of how much hearing loss the employee has suffered, especially if the loss has been gradual. In some cases, like firefighters and police officers (see NRS 617.454), employees are required to undergo routine hearing tests.
The timing requirement for reporting an occupational disease poses a real challenge to employees who have suffered hearing loss. Nevada law requires employees to report an occupational disease within seven days of knowing about the disease and its relationship to their job. NRS 617.342(1). But determining when an employee “knew” about the hearing loss can be difficult. Waiting too long to act can be grounds for a denied claim. For that reason, workers who think their hearing has been affected by their jobs shouldn’t wait to begin the reporting and claims process.
Experienced workers’ compensation attorneys can help
The attorneys at the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez specialize in resolving complicated workers’ compensation problems. We have served employees in the Las Vegas area for over 45 years, and we’d be happy to answer your questions. For a free attorney consultation call us today at 702-388-4476, or ask us to reach out to you through our contact page.