Noise- Induced Hearing Loss
Noise induced hearing loss occurs most commonly in the workplace environment, where workers are exposed on a regular basis to noise levels of over 80dBA. Such exposure over a long period of time can result in permanent hearing impairment, which often occurs gradually.
The following industries are amongst the most common within which workers are at risk of hearing impairment;
- Road drilling;
- Car manufacturing.
However, there are many other industries and work environments that may result in workers suffering damage, and in the circumstances, anyone who believes that their impairment is a direct result of exposure to certain working conditions, may be eligible to claim compensation against their employer, or former employer.
Employers owe a duty of care to their employees to ensure that they do not suffer any injury that is reasonably within the employer’s ability to avoid and protect against.
The scope of the duty of care, at common law, is generally assessed under the following headings;
- The provision of competent staff;
- The provision of a safe place of work;
- The provision of proper equipment;
- The provision of a safe system of work.
Furthermore, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 sets out a number of obligations on employers, and employees, in the work place, and imposes a duty on employers to do everything reasonably practicable to ensure the safety, welfare and health of their employees.
“Reasonably practicable” has been interpreted to mean that an employer has exercised all due care by putting in place the necessary protective and preventative measures, having identified the hazards and assessed the risks to safety and health…at the place of work.
Sections 8 to 12 of the 2005 Act contain the general duties of employers, both to employees and to other persons. Such general duties, include the obligation on the employer to;
- provide information to employees;
- provide instruction, training and supervision;
- to ensure plans and procedures for emergencies and imminent dangers are in place;
- and general duties to persons who are not employees.
Sections 18-24 of the 2005 Act deal with protective and preventative measures generally.
Employers of those working in environments whereby employees are exposed to loud noise on a persistent, or repetitive basis, really ought to ensure that the following safety measures/systems of work are in place;
- Quieter machinery;
- Installation of sound barriers and absorbent materials;
- Shorter working periods, or reduction of exposure to loud noise;
- The provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as earplugs, to workers at risk of noise exposure.
Failure to ensure that employees are adequately protected in the workplace, and failure to do all that is reasonably expected of them to ensure that no injury is sustained by workers, may leave employers liable for any damage or loss sustained as a result of inadequate systems of work.
The following are the most common forms of impaired hearing that arise from over-exposure to loud noise in the workplace;
Tittinus: which causes a ringing or buzzing sound in both ears;
Acoustic Shock Syndrome: which is damage to the ear caused by a single intense “impulse” sound at close proximity, such as an explosion or bang, or alternatively, through repeated exposure to high-frequency, high-intensity sounds through a headset.
Occupational Deafness: causing permanent cell damage to the inner ear that causes partial or complete deafness.
Compensation may be achieved for noise-induced hearing impairment in the workplace. General damages, for the injury itself, together with special damages, which are those out-of-pocket expenses borne by the claimant as a result of the accident, and any loss of earnings, may be recoverable from an employer who has failed in their duty of care to the employee.
Particularly in relation to special damages, claimants may be able to recover expenses arising out of the need to undergo surgery and have certain adaptations made to their home such as adapted telephones, door bells and alarm clocks. Furthermore, the need for hearing aids, batteries and replacements, as well as sign language training, may also be recoverable.
Pursuant to the Statute of Limitations Act 1957, a claim must be brought within two years of:
- The date of the noise exposure that caused the hearing loss, or
- The date of discovering a hearing impairment linked to noise exposure. This is known as the date of knowledge.
The date of knowledge is the date that a claimant may reasonably have been expected to realise that they have a hearing impairment as a result of their working conditions. The date of knowledge is usually the date of diagnosis made by a healthcare professional, but not always.
If a claimant has not been officially diagnosed with a hearing impairment which is a direct result of exposure in their workplace environment, an audiologist report can be procured. This report will indicate whether the hearing impairment is linked to working conditions, or whether it is a result of other degenerative factors, such as age. Where the report establishes a causative link between the resulting hearing impairment and the employees working conditions, compensation may arise.