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3M Earplugs – Hearing Loss & Tinnitus

3M dual-ended Earplugs were intended to provide ear protection in some of the loudest noise conditions. They were designed for combat but have been used in many other industries. The design may have been defective and resulted in thousands of cases of ear damage or hearing loss for workers in all types of settings.

3M Combat Arms Earplugs Injuries

hearing damage

Thousands of veterans and industrial workers who used 3M dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs may have suffered ear damage or hearing loss due to a defective design which may have failed to provide adequate protection.

3M dual-ended Earplugs were intended to provide ear protection in some of the loudest noise conditions. They were designed for combat but have been used in many other industries. The design may have been defective and resulted in thousands of cases of ear damage or hearing loss for workers in all types of settings.

3M, manufacturer of consumer and industrial product, may be facing hundreds of lawsuits filed by industrial workers who suffered ear damage or hearing loss while using 3M dual-ended Earplugs. These lawsuits will be in addition to the hundreds of cases that have already been filed by military personnel and veterans.

Hearing Loss in the U.S.

About 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise levels at work every. In most cases, ear protection will help to prevent hearing loss and damage may be reversible with time. In some cases, however hearing loss is permanent and exposure to loud noise may add up over time.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), hearing loss is one of the most common types of workplace illness and may affect about 20,000 workers each year. In fact, about one-fourth of all hearing loss is related to exposure in the workplace.

Regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require that employers take steps to reduce workers exposure to loud noise and require that injuries are reported to appropriate authorities. As regulations only require reporting of documented hearing impairment, many cases go unreported as damage may not be enough to measure or may not be reported by employees.

Dangerous Noise Levels

Hearing impairment can be a result of loud noises in the workplace. About 24% of hearing loss is caused by workplace exposure and 8% of working population has tinnitus; 4% has both tinnitus and hearing difficulty. Hearing loss in certain industries is more prevalent, particularly in manufacturing. Manufacturing jobs comprise about 13% of the U.S. workforce but about 72% of workplace hearing loss occurs in those working in manufacturing.

OSHA has set noise exposure limits and requires that workers are not exposed to more than 85 decibels over 8 continuous hours and for noise levels louder or longer than 115 decibels for less than 15 minutes, ear protection is required.

Though manufacturing is the biggest source of hearing loss, it occurs in other industrial setting such as farm and agricultural settings, mining and construction sites and jobs of all types.

NIOSH statistics show that workers in certain jobs spend a significant portion of their day working in noise environments that are higher than allowable noise limits including:

  • Carpenters – 84% of the time over the NIOSH noise limits
  • Electricians – 57%  
  • Masonry workers – 63%
  • Operating engineers – 77%
  • Insulation workers – 18%
  • Cement workers – 67%
  • Iron workers – 86%
  • Sheet metal workers – 57%
  • Construction workers – 73%

OSHA limits worker exposure to noisy environments to a maximum of 85 decibels for 8-hour period. Some examples of noise levels of common industrial equipment include:

  • 12-gauge shotgun – 165
  • Jet engine – 140
  • Ambulance siren – 120
  • Pneumatic precision drill – 119
  • Hammer drill – 114
  • Chain saw – 110
  • Circular saw – 110
  • Bulldozer – 105
  • Spray painter – 105
  • Hand drill – 98
  • Tractor – 96
  • Hair dryer – 90
  • Lawn mower – 90
  • Limit – 85
  • Ringing telephone – 80
  • Normal conversation – 60
  • Whisper – 30

Not only is hearing loss one of the most common work-related illnesses, it affects more people than diabetes, cancer or vision problems. It can have a profound and negative impact on quality of life.

3M Combat Arms Earplugs Design Flaws

The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) were introduced in 2003 by Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M in 2008. The earplugs were marketed by 3M until 2013 and were used exclusively by the U.S. military until their discontinuation. They were also widely available for purchase by the public.

The 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) are designed as a dual-ended device with two “Christmas tree-shaped” cones joined by a stem. One end is intended to suppress all noises while the other end is intended to allow for conversational level noises to be heard but protect the ear in the event of a sudden explosive-type noise like those heard in combat.

As a comparison to industrial settings which range in noise levels, military settings for which the Combat Arms Earplugs were reportedly designed may require routine exposure to sound levels ranging upwards from 103 decibels up to 184 decibels on an intermittent basis. 3M marketed their earplugs as a military solution, which may have led employers and workers in loud industrial settings to use them as preferred ear protection.

Unfortunately, the stem may be too short for some ear canals. When inserted, the user may feel that it is well-seated but over time, it may work its way loose without the wearer’s knowledge. If the earplug is not fully seated, ear protection may be inadequate for industrial settings.

Ear damage, even if hearing loss is not severe or complete, may cause symptoms which include:

  • Partial or complete hearing loss in one or both ears
  • Tinnitus as a constant or intermittent ringing, whining or buzzing sound
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Inability to sleep even when tired
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Headaches, neck aches or ear pain

In many cases, people who suffer from hearing loss will become more and more isolated and may suffer from depression. In addition, the loss of some hearing makes many people more likely to suffer future injury as they are no longer able to respond appropriately to emergency sounds or warnings and ma

Unfortunately, despite the claims and even though they were used according to instructions, the earplugs may have left many military veterans inadequately protected. Thousands of veterans and active duty personnel may have experienced hearing damage or hearing loss.

3M Whistleblower Lawsuit

CAEv2 3M earplugs were in use for about a decade before a whistleblower lawsuit led to discontinuance. 3M settled a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit in June 2018 with an agreement for the company to pay $9.1 million. 3M and predecessor company Aearo Technologies were accused of manufacturing a product which may have resulted in hearing loss and damage, failing to disclose design defects for more than 10 years and manipulating test results so that it appeared that the CAEv2 met military specifications.

Aearo Tech and 3M actions may have prevented military personnel from seeking more effective devices for hearing protection and may have encouraged non-military companies and workers to use the 3M earplugs rather than other devices. Though 3M agreed to the settlement and payment, they did not admit any wrongdoing and termed the lawsuit a “distraction to business”.

3M Combat Arms Earplug Lawsuits

In addition to thousands of active duty military personnel who may have suffered hearing loss while using 3M combat earplugs, many workers in other settings suffered disability to hearing damage or loss as well. Workers who may have been forced to retire or suffered from medical and personal issues are considering filing lawsuits against 3M for their losses.

3M is facing hundreds of hearing loss lawsuits filed by veterans and may soon be facing hundreds or even thousands of additional lawsuits filed by workers in all types of industry. If you or a loved one suffered hearing loss while using 3M Combat Arms dual-ended Earplugs, seek legal advice.

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