RG Steelworkers at risk for hearing loss

YORKVILLE – Steelworkers employed by RG Steel face the termination of benefits Aug. 31. Linda Davison, audiologist of Davison Audiology, urges employees to take their last opportunity to have their hearing examined and any issues diagnosed.

“It is unfortunate that many of the RG Steel employees and retirees are suddenly losing their hearing and hearing aid benefits. Many of them have worked in high level noise for years and already have permanent hearing loss,” she said.

“These steelworkers will need hearing related services for the rest of their lives. I encourage any steelworker or their family members needing hearing services to schedule an appointment with an audiologist listed in their provider handbook,” Davison said, adding that hearing loss should not be neglected.

“We have seen an excessive number of steelworkers who have what we call noise induced hearing loss, which appears to be job related,” she said. “Many of them have head noise or tinnitus accompanied by high frequency hearing loss which significantly impairs their ability to understand speech, especially in the presence of background noise. Many of these individuals have been fitted with amplification devices and up until now did have benefits for that.”

Davison added that hearing loss occurs gradually.

“The individual experiencing hearing loss is not aware it is happening. It is not a loss of volume. More than likely it is a loss of clarity. More often these individuals will blame others not speaking clearly or enunciating properly when it’s that loss of clarity that makes them unable to hear specific consonant sounds.”

She listed other symptoms, including requests to turn up the television volume, to ask speakers to repeat themselves, and having difficulty in hearing women and children.

“These would all be symptoms of noise induced hearing loss,” she said.

Davison said the degree of hearing loss depends on several factors such as the environment and the noise level and how many years an employee might have worked without hearing protection.

She noted this is an issue for older steelworkers, since OSHA had not always mandated the use of ear protection.

“A problem is that many have worked years without hearing protections,” she said.

However, current regulations require the noise levels to be posted and for steelworkers to receive screenings, so employees know if they work in an area risky to hearing.

“Most of the noise levels of that particular environment will exceed the eight-hour time weighted average that OSHA allows. so they would all need hearing protection on the job,” she said, adding that hearing protection can vary in its effectiveness depending on what type of earplug the employees used and whether they insert the plug correctly.

Steelworkers with concerns about hearing loss should contact an audiologist.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com