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Noise Study And Doctor's Opinion Discounted In Hearing-Loss

In 1967 Delbert Sandy began working for Elliott Turbomachinery Co., near Pittsburgh. Sandy worked in various capacities at the plant, and from 1970 to 1991 he was a machine operator. In 2002, Sandy, still employed by Elliott, visited an ear specialist, who tested his hearing and determined that he suffered from a 15-percent hearing loss.

Sandy submitted a claim for workers'compensation benefits, asserting that his hearing loss was due to continuous exposure to high levels of noise at work. According to Sandy, noise levels were excessive all over the plant, not just in the machine rooms.

Sandy's doctor, Dr. Michael C. Bell, testified at the workers'-comp hearing that Sandy had a permanent hearing loss, and that it was caused by exposure to workplace noise. Although Sandy was a recreational hunter for many years, Bell said that his occasional hunting, five or six times a year, did not cause his hearing loss.

Elliott said that the noise at its plant did not exceed the permissible exposure levels set forth by OSHA regulations, and produced a noise study performed by an engineer that supported that claim. The company also produced an ear specialist, Dr. Sidney M. Busis, who had examined Sandy and testified that Sandy suffered from an 11 percent hearing loss, but that it was not caused by exposure to noise at the job because the noise study revealed no long-term hazardous noise exposure.

The workers'-compensation judge found that the study did not adequately reflect the true noise levels at the workplace, as experienced by Sandy, and discounted both the study and the testimony of Busis. The judge awarded Sandy workers'-compensation benefits, and the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the judge's decision.

Elliott appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. That court upheld the award to Sandy, ruling that the evidence at the hearing established that Sandy was exposed to long term hazardous workplace noise that resulted in a greater than 10 percent hearing loss, and so was entitled to workers'-comp benefits. The court sent the case back to the workers'-compensation judge, to recalculate the amount of the award.

Elliott Turbomachinery Co. v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, 898 A.2nd 640 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2006), Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, May 2, 2006.
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