Industrial Hearing Loss has an impact on thousands of working men and women every year. This website is designed to assist people suffering from noise induced hearing loss to consider the prospects of making a successful industrial deafness claim for compensation and to provide a greater understand of the reasons for them being hard of hearing.
Industrial hearing loss is known by several different names, including occupational deafness, noise induced hearing loss and industrial deafness. It is caused by exposure to high levels of noise over prolonged periods of time in the industrial setting. It can lead to sensorineural hearing loss in many cases.
Information can be found dealing with:
- What is needed for a successful claim for industrial hearing loss?
- Symptoms of industrial hearing loss
- Relevant Noise Levels
- Noise at Work Regulations
- Time Limits in industrial hearing loss cases
- Evidence needed to help make the claim successful
- Damages in industrial hearing loss cases
There are a number of different injuries which can flow from industrial hearing loss, including permanent loss of hearing, temporary loss of hearing, tinnitus and acoustic shock syndrome. When the symptoms are identified early enough, treatment is possible to reduce the effects of these injuries and if measures are taken to reduce the level of the noise in the workplace, permanent injury can usually be avoided. Noise induced hearing loss cannot be reversed, but the impact can be minimised if steps are taken promptly to prevent workers becoming hard of hearing.
The effect of noise at work has been known about for a long time and the current law is set out in the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. These set out strict noise limits which must be complied with in order to prevent workers suffering from industrial hearing loss. Employers who employ people in noisy environments must take specific steps to reduce the levels of noise their workers are exposed too, so reducing the risk on noise induced hearing loss.
What is needed for a successful claim for industrial hearing loss?
There are several hurdles for an injured claimant to overcome before they receive compensation for their noise induced hearing loss.
Firstly, it is necessary to show that the employers are legally at fault for the injury. It is not enough to simply say “I am suffering from hearing loss, please pay me compensation”. Instead, the Claimant needs to show that the employers were either negligent or in breach of the relevant Noise Regulations in force at the time of their exposure to noise. Witness evidence, engineering evidence and supportive documentary evidence like noise surveys will all be required by the Claimant.
Secondly, the Claimant must prove that their hearing loss was caused by exposure to noise with the identified employer. It is not enough to simply show that someone’s hearing is reduced. A medical expert, usually a Consultant Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon, will be required to analyse the Claimant’s audiograms to consider whether the symptoms complained of can be related to noise. Other factors, notably age, can have an impact on a person’s hearing and these do not form part of a claim for noise induced hearing loss compensation. The expert will provide evidence to the Court to assist with proving causation of the hearing loss.
Finally, the Claimant must prove that the case has been brought to Court within the strict time limits imposed by the Limitation Act 1980. An injured person has to ensure that proceedings are issued at Court within 3 years of the date that they knew (or should reasonably have known) that their hearing loss was related to their job. Failure to issue the forms at Court in time is usually fatal to a claim, although in certain circumstances, the Judge can be asked to exercise discretion and allow more time.
Symptoms of Industrial Deafness
Generally as people get older, they will begin to notice that they are experiencing symptoms of reduced hearing which is sometimes age related, but can also be caused by exposure to high levels of noise at work over the years.
Except in cases of specific acoustic shock or trauma, there is not usually a specific onset of noise induced hearing loss. People notice more gradually that their hearing is getting worse. Maybe they can’t hear conversation so well, or family members complain that the TV is too loud. Sometimes, it becomes more difficult to use the telephone as it can be hard to catch the words that the other person is saying.
Tinnitus is another common symptom of industrial hearing loss. This is a constant ringing or whistling in the ears. It makes sleep difficult and is extremely unpleasant for the sufferer.
Tinnitus is often associated with noise exposure, but it can occur for other reasons in some people too, often brought about after a blow to the head or use of medication like aspirin or quinine.
We recommend that anyone who thinks that they may be suffering from reduced hearing should visit their GP for further advice.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss Regulations
The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 came into force on 1 January 1990. They put the onus on employers to carry our appropriate assessment of noise exposure, keep proper records of the noise level assessments, take steps to reduce the risk of hearing damage, provide adequate hearing protection and ear protection zones, ensure that equipment is properly maintained and provide employees with relevant training and information.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 came into force on 6 April 2006 and they extend the 1989 Regulations by amending the limit and action values set out to provide better protection for employees.
When a claim for noise induced hearing loss is made, it is necessary to consider which regulations were in force at the time, to ensure that the appropriate standards are being applied to the case.
Time Limits in Industrial Hearing Loss cases
Strict time limits apply to deafness cases in the same way that they apply to all other personal injury cases.
There is a three time limit in which a Claimant must ensure that they bring their case to the attention of the Court by issuing court proceedings. This is done by filing a document called a Claim Form. It is easily obtained from the Ministry of Justice website. The Claimant then has 4 months in which to serve detailed medical evidence, information about financial losses and a full particular of claim.
The three year time limit begins on the day that a reasonable person knew (or should have known) that their injury was possibly related to the work that they had been doing. In noise induced hearing loss cases, it is often very difficult to identify this date precisely, but items like medical records, occupational health records and social security records may all be considered.
We strongly advise anyone who thinks that they may have noise induced hearing loss to contact a specialist industrial disease solicitor without delay, because the time limits are very difficult to extend and any delay will go against the Claimant.
Evidence needed to make the claim successful
A victim of noise induced hearing loss has the job of proving the case, so they will need to provide evidence in support.
Firstly, they need to show that there has been a breach of the noise induced hearing loss regulations. In order to do that, they have to prove that their workplace was excessively noisy. Witness evidence from colleagues who were there at the same time is very helpful. They may be able to describe what the noise was like and paint an imaginary picture of the job for the judge.
In addition, expert evidence from an acoustic engineer may be required. They are experts in sound engineering and will be able to measure the decibels present in the workplace to confirm whether or not the appropriate noise induced hearing loss regulations have been breached. A detailed report will be prepared by the expert for the purpose of assisting the Court and the parties to the case.
Secondly, the Claimant needs to show that their hearing loss or tinnitus is directly caused by the noise in their workplace. In order to do this, evidence from an expert Consultant Ear Nose and Throat surgeon will be required. The doctor will measure the hearing by creating an audiogram in a sound booth. This will identify the frequencies of hearing loss and allow the expert to conclude whether the deafness is cause by noise, by age or by another factor.
Unless the Claimant can provide medical evidence to support the claim, he will not be successful.
Damages in Noise Induced Hearing Loss cases
Successful noise induced hearing loss claims result in compensation damages being paid to the Claimant.
There are 2 heads of damages in a claim for industrial deafness.
Firstly, an injured person is entitled to compensation for general damages. These reflect the pain, suffering and loss of amenity that they have experienced. General damages are calculated by comparing the injured person’s medical report with similar, previous cases that have already been decided by the Court. The Judicial College Guidelines also provide a helpful breakdown of the value of cases and assist the Judge in assessing the claim.
Secondly, compensation is paid for financial losses and expenses like travel, loss of earnings, prescriptions, aids and equipment and, in some cases, future loss of earning and other costs. These costs are calculated by including them in a document called a Schedule of Special Damages.