Environmental risks possess, according to the Environmental Protection Agency “the chance of harmful effects to human health or to ecological systems resulting from exposure to an environmental stressor.” This includes, of course, natural disasters, which have been front and center in the news today as fires, floods, and hurricanes pose more of a risk. But did you know environmental risks also include noise pollution? Read on for information on different environmental risks and how they can affect workers and workers’ compensation coverage.

In the aftermath of natural disasters such as fires, hurricanes, and floods, recovery teams step in to restore order. In many cases, these workers are from a different state, which can cause confusion when it comes to workers’ compensation coverage.

National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) states: “In the voluntary market, workers who travel outside their home state to work in another state are generally covered as they would be in their home state. Under policy reporting requirements, employers must make their carrier aware that they are beginning work in another state.” In other words: As unique situations arise, employers should contact their agent or carrier to verify specific policy requirements.

Another common scenario post-disaster is where workers are put in a different role—that of clean-up crew. This can affect an employer’s workers’ compensation policy, even if the work is only temporary. According to the NCCI, “the carrier will determine if the disruption qualifies as a ‘change in operations,’ which may trigger the reassignment of classification codes according to the changes in duties.”

As always, it’s important to notify the agent or carrier about any change in worker status in these types of situations.

Sound Levels (dBA)

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. They estimate that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year.

Noise is considered hazardous when it reaches 85 decibels or higher. Roughly a quarter of the hearing difficulty among U.S. workers is caused by occupational exposures; and the Department of Labor recently cited that hearing loss disability accounts for an estimated $242 million in workers’ compensation payments each year. Noise is measured in units of sound pressure levels called decibels, using A-weighted sound levels (dBA). Because decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, a small change in the number of decibels results in a large change in the amount of noise and the potential damage to a person’s hearing.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets legal limits on noise exposure in the workplace, based on a worker’s level of exposure during an 8-hour day. OSHA’s permissible noise exposure limit is 90 dBA for all workers for an 8-hour work day. However, the OSHA standard uses a 5 dBA exchange rate, which means when the noise level is increased by 5 dBA, the amount of time a worker can be exposed to a certain noise level.

OSHA has published a very helpful guide on how to evaluate, control, and ultimately reduce noise hazards at the workplace: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation.

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