If you’ve been exposed to excessive levels of noise in your employment which may have damaged your hearing, you may be entitled to make a hearing loss claim.
Thousands of workers are exposed to excessive noise at work that can give rise to hearing loss (Noise Induced Deafness). Many workers do not claim until later on in life, as the disability is insidious.
The severity of Industrial Deafness / Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) can vary depending on the length and level of exposure suffered by the individual. Any occupation with exposure to loud noises on a continuous day-to-day basis can result in hearing loss due to nerve damage. Some people are more susceptible than others to hearing loss.
How do we hear?
Sound waves in the air are collected by the auricle, and passed down the external auditory canal to the eardrum, making it vibrate. These vibrations are then transmitted through the middle ear by the ossicles, and the fluid of the inner ear is set in motion. The nerve cells of the Organ of Corti are activated, to stimulate nerve impulses which are transmitted to the brain along the acoustic nerve.
Noise is measured in decibels. As a general rule, any noise above 85 decibels risks injury to the ears and the louder the noise the shorter exposure needed for damage. As a guide, normal conversation is about 50-60 decibels, loud music is around 100 decibels, a pneumatic drill at 1 metre is about 120 decibels and a jet engine at 30 metres is around 130 decibels.
If you have previously been exposed to high levels of noise at work and you now find that you have to turn the volume on your television up or cannot follow a conversation where there is background noise, you may be suffering from industrial deafness or noise induced hearing loss.
The brain adapts to changes in auditory input but forgets the sounds that it is no longer exposed to. The earlier a hearing aid is worn the easier it is for the brain to re-learn these forgotten sounds. Hearing loss can also be damaged by injury, drugs, age and our own genetics.
This does not prevent a claim being made if a solicitor can prove that some hearing loss/damage has been caused by work. Some signs of hearing damage are, difficulty to hear people speak, having worked in a noisy place, ringing or buzzing in ears, complaints that the TV is on too loud, difficulty to hear a knock on the door and the need to wear a hearing aid.
Another effect of exposure to loud noise is Tinnitus which can sound like ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears or head. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant. It tends to be worse at night when it is quiet. It can be very distressing leading to sleepless nights, irritability and depression. Tinnitus can make hearing even more difficult as the noises can mask sound. Compensation payments are therefore a lot greater if there is a combined hearing loss and tinnitus.
What Occupations are able to make a claim?
Any job that involves exposure to loud noise. This can include labourers using drills to break up concrete and tarmac in the road, factory workers, and even call centre operatives where hearing can be damaged to the ear when sound is emitted through the earpiece.
The law is clear, employers must ensure that all work equipment and machines does not emit noise that can be dangerous to hearing. If employers are not able to reduce the noise levels they must provide suitable ear protection, guidance, training and job rotation to eliminate the dangers.
The courts will take into account that your health, livelihood, family and social life can be adversely affected. Your hearing will be damaged for life. You may have to change jobs or in fact may be unable to obtain employment. Below is a quick guide on what courts will award for the injury alone. On top of these figures can give rise to other substantial damages such as loss of earnings, hearing aids and out of pocket.