Our ability to hear declines as we get older so age is a common cause of hearing loss. Hearing loss may also be hereditary. If you have worked in a noisy environment, excessive noise exposure may have contributed to your overall loss.
Hearing loss is cumulative so your hearing will deteriorate over time. You may gradually start to notice that you need to have the television turned up loud so that you can hear it. You may miss parts of conversation especially in group or social settings. Friends and family may suggest you are ignoring them. These are indications of some hearing loss. You may also have Tinnitus, which is usually a buzzing in your ears. Tinnitus can sometimes arise spontaneously if you feel stressed or anxious, but it may be due to noise if you also have a hearing loss.
There is no cure for hearing damage, but hearing aids and tinnitus maskers (for severe cases) can help. The cost of these can be included in a claim for compensation, but these aids are also available on the NHS.
Noise-induced hearing loss
Noise-induced hearing Loss (NIHL) is the most common industrial illness in the world. It is permanent and debilitating. It may occur alone, or with tinnitus (buzzing, or other noise, in the ears). If you are able to prove that your employer negligently exposed you to harmful levels of noise which caused you to suffer a hearing loss, then you may be able to claim compensation.
It is widely accepted throughout all industrial sectors that employers have known about the damage that noise can do since 1963. A leaflet called ‘Noise and the Worker’ was published that year, and the landmark legal judgement in the case of Thompson v Smith Ship Repairers reinforced the date of industry knowledge on the back of that publication. By this date, therefore, employers ought to have been aware of the dangers of exposing their workers to damaging levels of noise and their legal responsibility and duty of care to do something about it.
The Laws and Regulations
In order to bring a claim for NIHL you will need to prove that your employer exposed you to excessive levels of noise in breach of the duty to protect you from harm as laid down by the law and subsequent regulations. A negligent employer is one who has failed to keep you safe from that harm when the employer could have foreseen the danger to your health.
The Factories Acts of 1959 and 1961 provided the legal framework that gave employers the duty to make the workplace safe (as far as reasonably practicable). Case law since then reinforced the acceptance of the breach of duty relating to exposure to excessive levels of noise from 1963 – 1996 (when the Factories Act 1961 was repealed).
The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 then dealt specifically with exposure to noise at work, setting maximum exposure limits of 85 dBa and 90 dBa, and creating a duty to protect workers by reducing noise to the lowest practicable level. The regulations have also enforced the provision of hearing protection, the carrying out of noise surveys & assessments, and the provision of training and information about the risks of noise exposure. Under these regulations, if it is proven that your employer hasn’t taken the necessary preventative steps, you can make a claim for hearing damage.
In addition to the obligations placed on employers by the 1989 Regulations, there are the requirements of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations of 1992 and 1999, and other regulations that have become effective since then that are also relevant to hearing loss claims.
The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 were updated by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 to incorporate other industries, but they also reduced the minimum exposure levels to 80 dBA and 85 dBa. The effect of these ‘newer’ regulations will drive down exposure levels in future years, which is a positive step for the protection of workers from hearing damage, although it may make claims less likely in due course.
Who can you claim against?
You may have worked in a noisy environment for more than one employer and some, or all, may no longer be trading. You should aim to claim against all employers regardless of whether or not they remain in business. It is often possible to trace the insurance companies who provided employers’ liability insurance to those firms, and, once they are located, these insurers will investigate their liability to pay compensation to you. If they accept negligence, each insurer should pay compensation to you based on the number of years for which that the company exposed you to excessive noise. Compensation is therefore apportioned between each negligent employer for their share of your hearing damage.
If court proceedings are necessary, it may be that some companies that are no longer in existence have to be restored to the Companies House Register for that purpose.
How to bring a claim for compensation
There are a number of hurdles you will need to overcome in order to succeed with a claim:
1 Limitation – you must bring a claim within 3 years of the date you knew, or ought to have known, that your hearing damage could have been caused by your work
2 Causation – you must be diagnosed with a quantifiable hearing loss and/or tinnitus due to noise once any age related loss has been deducted from your overall loss. We obtain medical evidence on your behalf to prove that point and we will discuss your work & exposure history with you.
3 Foreseeability – you must prove that your employer could have foreseen that exposure to noise could have caused that damage
4 Negligence and breach of duty – you must be able to demonstrate that your employer exposed you to excessive noise in breach of the relevant laws and regulations. If they failed to provide and enforce hearing protection in excessively noisy areas, or failed to warn you about the dangers of excessive noise exposure, this will assist your case.
It is important to note that all of these hurdles must be overcome, not just one or two.
If your GP or Consultant has suggested to you that noise might have contributed to your hearing damage, please seek legal advice as soon as possible, and ideally seek that advice when you first suspect that any noticeable hearing loss might have been caused by your work. This may be before any medical consultation, so be aware of the 3 year limitation rule and don’t delay. Do make sure that any legal advice you seek comes from a specialist lawyer with expertise in dealing with your type of claim.
How Your Legal Friend can help you
As experienced occupational illness specialists, we have years of experience in managing cases of noise-induced hearing loss. We are committed to guiding you through every step of the process and will ensure that your claim is handled carefully and professionally by specialist solicitors with a record of success in this field.
Your Legal Friend is committed to ensuring that victims of occupational illness receive appropriate compensation for their condition and that relevant financial expenses are properly met both now and in the future.