The loss of a primary faculty can have truly negative consequences on the quality of your life. Unfortunately, hearing loss can happen gradually, and we may not be aware until many years after the cause of the problem.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), affects an estimated 20,000 people in Great Britain; with ~ 100 new cases reported each year. At a population level, this equates to 62 people in every 100,000 workers, of which the overwhelming majority are male (only ten females have been reported with NIHL in 10 years). The number of reported cases overall is however on the decline having halved since 2008, due to the increasing pressure on employers to ensure noise levels are minimised.
NIHL occurs when individuals are exposed to prolonged exposure to excessive noise levels or very loud bursts of sound (such as gunshots or the impact of a hammer).
The symptoms of NIHL
The organisation, Action on Hearing Loss, report that many people will experience tinnitus (ringing, buzzing or humming) as a precursor to more pervasive loss of hearing. As the impact of damage worsens, you may notice a reduction in the ability to detect high-frequency sounds initially; this will then lead to degeneration in the lower ranges. A sign that you have been affected is that you struggle to follow conversations in the presence of background noise; note that this may be in one ear or both. In the later stages, it will become more challenging to hold a conversation even where there is little additional sound in your environment.
Signs that your work environment is too noisy
A very simple way to measure if your workplace is excessively loud is to check if you can hold a conversation with a colleague that is 2 metres away. If not, you must tell your employer who is duty bound to take corrective action, to ensure that your work environment is made safe. If you are in an occupation that involves the use of machinery, heavy impacts and banging, loud music or explosions (e.g. nail guns), it is highly likely that noise levels are very high and your employer must ensure your safety. What should employers do to protect your hearing?
Employers are legally required to act to reduce noise that consistently exceeds 80 – 85 decibels or where there is a peak sound of 135 – 137 decibels. There are many ways to reduce these impacts, including:
- Sound barriers
- Ear protection – these must be CE marked to ensure sufficient level of protection is provided
- Limiting the length of exposure
- Workplace layout and design
- Absorbent building materials
- Improving work task technique through training
- Purchasing quieter machinery – as per the Provision of Use of Work Equipment Regulations (1998)
- Ensure machinery is well maintained
- Implementing proper signage and policies & procedures to ensure optimal compliance with noise safety directives
- Have hearing protection zones
In the UK, the obligations of employers in respect of hearing safety are considerable; a fact that has most likely lead to the level of reported cases halving in the last ten years. If you are in an occupation with loud noise levels (as per the action levels described above), your employer must provide annual hearing checks. If a problem is discovered, the frequency of checks may be increased to keep a closer watch on your hearing. The results of such checks will inform your employer of your fitness to continue working in a noisy environment – and ultimately, they must implement further changes to mitigate the chance of further damage occurring.
Can I claim if I believe I have suffered hearing damage at work?
As you can see, employers are required to do a great deal to ensure that the hearing of their workers is not lost due to the tasks they are required to complete. If you have suffered hearing loss at work and would like to seek compensation, you need to establish there has been negligence on behalf of your employer. If you believe your current deafness was caused by your employer many years ago, it may be possible to bring a claim if you can prove that you have only become aware of the link between the damage and cause in the last three years; this is the time limit imposed to make a claim in the UK. If you are unsure, we encourage you to contact one of our workplace injury solicitors who will advise you on the likelihood of making a successful claim.
At Russell Worth Solicitors we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have suffered hearing damage as a result of your occupation and would like a free claim assessment so that you can understand your rights, please call us now on 0800 028 2060 or complete our Online Claim Assessment.