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September 20, 2019

Hearing loss: Is it recordable?

Revision in occupational injuries and illnesses recording and reporting standards

Arthur Beames

One component of the fourth final ruling as part of OSHA’s Standard Improvement Project is a revision in the Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Recording and Reporting Standards, which will reduce the confusion that is currently observed in determining the work-relatedness of hearing loss cases. This fourth final ruling was published July 15, 2019.

The revision in the 1904.10(b)(6) section of the Recordkeeping rule will shore up how employers and medical personnel are to determine if hearing loss cases are work related. A newly added cross reference to Title 29 CFR 1904.5 clearly emphasizes the pre-existing requirement that if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the hearing loss, or aggravated pre-existing hearing loss, the physician or other licensed health care professional must consider the case to be work-related. It will now be the employer’s responsibility to ensure physicians are considering the employee’s work environment when determining hearing loss cases.

The reason for this change is that the current rule reads: “If a physician or other licensed health care professional determines that the hearing loss is not work-related or has not been significantly aggravated by occupational noise exposure, you are not required to consider the case work-related nor record the case on the OSHA 300 Log”. There are circumstances in which hearing loss cases occur outside of the workplace due to illness, infection, or traumatic events, but this phrasing is loose and easy to interpret to one’s benefit. Through surveying and reviewing statistics developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it would seem that work-related hearing loss cases have been grossly under-reported. Physicians and other licensed health care professionals have been sent hearing loss cases and determine that the events were caused only by non-work related events. The new cross-reference will stress that anyone determining hearing loss cases as non-work related must use the requirements set forth in 1904.5 and consider the employee’s job tasks and work place environment. The goal is to more accurately track hearing loss trends and provide an opportunity for employers to improve the working conditions for their employees.

This new revision will not create any new requirements for employers, but more so reinforce the requirements that anyone making a determination of a hearing loss case must use the criteria defined in 1904.5 to determine work relatedness. This new cross-reference does not create the assumption that every employee going in for hearing loss is work-related but instead will create more accurate reporting.

For specific questions about hearing loss and its recordability, contact your local Marsh & McLennan Agency representative for assistance.