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Slide 11 of 14


Since most of us attending this roundtable are involved in health and safety as our chosen careers, I must assume that my earlier arguments about cost-effectiveness are sufficient reason to support a call for “doing better!” But each of us have clients or employers who need to have the cost-benefit side explained before they could get equally excited. Can we answer the question: “Is hearing health really worth all these costs?”

Well, I think we can in general now, and that given some time we will get much better at it. We are just now beginning to understand how a workforce that includes 40-65 year-old workers with functional hearing health is an important asset for a company that is engaged in the highly competitive market of the next century. We are also beginning to identify a number of hidden liabilities facing employers with a workforce that does not have healthy hearing. In addition, we are beginning to learn how to express the importance to the worker of healthy hearing in ways that can motivate them to engage in self-protective behavior both on and off the job.

Here are some starting points for understanding the hidden costs. First, the employer is picking up the health care benefits, and as hearing aids improve and as more workers want hearing aids, this could be a potentially staggering fee. NIOSH estimated that the hearing health cost under a national insurance plan would be somewhere around $10-15 billion a year. I think that is an interesting fact we have to keep in mind. Absent such a plan this cost will be born by employers, workers, and the taxpayer. There are other costs which are indirect costs related to just the issues of quality of life when you have hearing impairment. We have lost opportunity costs. For example, recently published studies indicate a worker with hearing impairment is 55% more at risk of on-the-job accidents than a worker without impairment. Another example is that workers with even moderate hearing loss required to use hearing protection face significant challenges in performing hearing critical jobs. As we get more technology in the workplace many of the jobs in American industry today are hearing critical jobs - you have to be able to hear to do the job right.

And finally, there are costs that are externalized to society. Those costs not picked up by the employer will be picked up by the taxpayer. As we begin to tally up these costs the value of workers with healthy hearing may even pass the cost-benefit test.