Around 70 workers in the Oldham area have received a total of more than £270,000 in compensation, mostly for hearing loss as a result of exposure to excessive noise in the workplace.
One claimant was Eric Bennett, 70, who had worked for an engineering firm for over 40 years until 1997. One of his responsibilities was to inspect the water pumps built by the company, which meant that he had to stand next to very loud machinery. The noise was so great that it was impossible to talk normally but, in spite of this, ear defenders were not issued to the company’s employees until the 1990s.
Mr Bennett was unaware of any problems until he retired, when his wife noticed that he was having difficulty hearing the television. The deterioration in his hearing was gradual. He had his ears syringed in 2007, after his doctor suggested that the problem was caused by wax in his ears. Eventually he consulted a hearing specialist, who told him he had lost 60 per cent of his hearing in both ears. He will have to wear hearing aids for the rest of his life.
He brought a claim against his former employer for noise-induced hearing loss. The claim was settled out of court for £5,000.
Noise-induced hearing loss can easily be prevented if employees are provided with adequate ear protection. Unfortunately, many workers in heavy industries continue to suffer from hearing problems caused by exposure to excessive workplace noise.
It has long been known that prolonged exposure to harmful noise levels can cause hearing loss unless adequate preventative measures are taken. Employers now have a duty to comply with the standards for control of exposure to noise laid down by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. These require employers to take specific action to ensure average and maximum levels of noise exposure are not exceeded. They must:
• assess the risks to employees from noise at work;
• take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks;
• provide hearing protection for employees if the noise exposure cannot be reduced to acceptable levels by other means;
• provide employees with appropriate information, instruction and training; and
• carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.
If you suffer from hearing damage because your employer has failed to take appropriate action, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact us for details.
Health and safety information on noise in the workplace is available from the Health and Safety Executive at http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/.