It has long been known that exposure to noise can cause hearing loss and the UK now has strict standards for noise exposure, which were tightened up as recently as 2005.
It can take a long time to realise that damage to one’s hearing has occurred and a recent case has opened the door for claims concerning hearing loss caused by exposure to noise many years ago to be brought to court.
It involved a number of textile companies in the East Midlands, which were sued by an employee who had developed noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) after working in garment factories between 1971 and 1989. At issue was the fact that the exposure which caused the loss must have occurred many years before the loss became noticeable.
In this case, the argument was made successfully that where there was a risk that the employee could be adversely affected and this should have been ascertained and acted on by the employer, the claim can be brought under the Factories Act 1961, regardless of the specific regulations relating to noise. The legislation provided that an employer had a duty to safeguard employees by providing, as far as reasonably practicable, a safe working environment.
The Court or Appeal accepted that the NIHL would have been latent for a period of years and that the claimant could claim compensation for damage to her hearing sustained from 1978. She was awarded more than £3,000.
With mild hearing loss, it is common for the symptoms to go unnoticed until middle age, when it is normal for there to be a loss of acuity in hearing in any event. When that occurs, the superposition of a NIHL can be very noticeable and can cause significant problems.
One of the issues with NIHL is that the loss of hearing ability is ‘focused’ around those frequencies of sound most important for understanding speech, which means that whilst (say) a sufferer can hear someone speaking, they may find it difficult to understand them. This makes following a conversation, especially where there is background noise, particularly difficult. Another problem is that the difference between the quietest sound which can be heard and the loudest which can be tolerated may become much less than is normal, which presents problems when watching television and so on.
Employers have a duty to provide the correct hearing protection for employees, as well as to monitor workplace noise levels. If you suffer from an occupational disease, such as hearing loss, as a result of a failure on the part of your employer to put in place the safety measures required by law, you could be entitled to compensation.
Contact Jason Claridge to discuss your claim.