North Carolina requires most businesses with three or more employees to carry workers’ compensation insurance, although there are some exceptions. North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act provides employees with guaranteed compensation for injuries sustained in the course of their employment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics rates the most common injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work as sprains and tears, fractures, and cuts and lacerations. Is hearing loss considered an injury? Does workers’ compensation cover this?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates hearing loss as the third most common chronic physical condition and one of the most common injuries sustained in the workplace. Around 22 million workers become exposed to harmful noise every year.
North Carolina statute
North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act, governed by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, recognizes the loss of hearing caused by harmful noise as an occupational disease under Article 1, Section 97-53. The section defines harmful noise as a sound with an intensity exceeding 90 decibels. 90 decibels may be equal to the sound of a motorcycle at 25 feet away, and damage may begin to occur after eight hours of exposure. The section continues by stating that the loss must be permanent in both ears caused by prolonged exposure in the workplace.
Those who work in an environment with harmful noise must wear employer-provided protection devices capable of preventing hearing loss; otherwise, NCIC will not pay the benefit. The employer may not be liable for any preexisting conditions established by a hearing test. To file a claim for compensation, the employee must wait six months from the first date of exposure to the harmful noise.
Employees receive 150 weeks of compensation benefits for total hearing loss in both ears, with the payout being the weekly average of 66 2/3%. The first compensation payment may not include the first seven days of lost time. If a disability goes beyond 21 days, the amount will consist of those first seven days.