Personal Injury
By Conal McGarrity
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Employers Negligence & Links to Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Noise induced hearing loss has been described by the World Health Organisation as ‘the most common, permanent and preventable injury in the world.’ One of the most prevalent environments for exposure to excessive noise is the workplace. Indeed, around 17,000 people in the UK experience some form of deafness or tinnitus due to noise in the workplace. It is, therefore, surprising that people often believe their hearing problems are naturally occurring and unpreventable without looking into it any further or seeking expert advice.

Another key reason for people not linking their hearing problems to their occupation is that occupational hearing problems tend to develop a long time after exposure to excessive noise. Hence, a retired machine operator may only be experiencing hearing problems 20 years after leaving a job where he was exposed to excessive noise. It is natural that the machine operator will automatically attribute his hearing problems to old age for example.

The purpose of this article is to enlighten you on the ever-emerging links between hearing problems and the workplace. We will also advise you on what duties are owed to you by an employer and whether said employer has acted negligently.

Who Is at Risk of Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
Health and safety regulations in the workplace have certainly improved in recent years. However, as discussed above, the symptoms of over exposure to noise In the workplace may not become apparent for some years.

The occupations which expose employees to the most noise include construction, engineering, quarrying, machine operatives, factory operatives, aviation and shipbuilding.

In the context of Northern Ireland, thousands of workers will have been exposed to excessive noise in the past in the once booming ship building and aviation industries. The engineering and manufacturing industries have also been prominent for many years, particularly in the Mid Ulster area.

Obviously not everyone who has worked in these occupations will now be experiencing hearing difficulties. However, there is likely to be a large body of current and retired workers who have noise induced hearing loss.

The Duty of an Employer
Your employer has a statutory duty to ensure that you are not exposed to excessive noise in the workplace. The current law in Northern Ireland is set out in The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006. This sets out very clear rules for what is an acceptable level of noise in the workplace and what measures must be put in place to mitigate the risk of harm to employees.

This legislation puts in place absolute requirements that are intended to prevent and mitigate the risk of damage. These include, but are not limited to, the provision of adequate training, the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), requirement to carry out regular risk assessments, requirement to provide adequate warning signs and a requirement to limit the amount of time an employee is exposed to excessive noise.

Negligence and Breach of Statutory Duty
If an employer fails to comply with their obligations under the legislation they can be sued for breach of statutory duty and negligence. In Noise induced hearing loss cases an employers negligence will usually arise by way of an omission to take appropriate steps to ensure their employees are not exposed to excessive noise or an act which has caused their employees to be exposed to excessive noise. This can include a failure to risk assess, failure to provide protective equipment such as earmuffs and a failure to take steps to eliminate or reduce the level of noise that employees are exposed to.

If you are unsure whether or not your employer or former employer has acted negligently our expert industrial disease solicitors will be happy to advise you on the merits of your case.

What Type of Damage Can be Caused?
The most common injuries arising from excessive noise exposure is industrial deafness, partial deafness, tinnitus and acoustic shock syndrome. When pursuing a claim for compensation in noise induced hearing loss claims our solicitors will typically arrange for their clients to be examined by a Consultant ENT Surgeon.

The ENT Surgeon will then provide a report detailing the level of injury sustained and the cause of the injury. Establishing a link between our client’s hearing problems and their occupation or former occupation is vital for a successful compensation claim in cases of this nature.

Are There Time Limitations for Pursuing a Claim?
You will have three years to issue court proceedings from the ‘date of knowledge’, which is essentially the date that your hearing problem has been linked to your occupation or former occupation.
For clients who are unsure of the cause of their hearing problem we would advise that they book a hearing test as soon as possible and consult with their GP. We can then begin the claims process.

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