A complete guide to industrial deafness claims

What are industrial deafness claims?

Industrial deafness can be defined as a condition that results in the gradual deterioration of hearing over a prolonged period as a consequence of being repeatedly exposed to excessive noise in a working environment. This can also be referred to as noise induced hearing loss or occupational deafness.

The general effects of industrial deafness can include:

  • Reduction in hearing
  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing (Tinnitus)
  • Occupational deafness- partial or complete deafness caused by damage of the inner ear
  • Acoustic shock syndrome- caused by continuous exposure to high decibel sound or a loud explosion
  • Acoustic trauma- temporary harm caused by a sudden loud noise (such as through a headset)

The symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss frequently do not become apparent to claimants until many years after exposure ceases, when the effects of age-related hearing loss are superimposed on their condition, and typically deteriorate gradually thereafter. At OH Parsons we handle industrial deafness matters which range from acoustic shock, hearing loss due to noise and tinnitus. We can handle your case on a ‘No Win No Fee’ basis where clients pay us nothing, even if your case is unsuccessful you will not pay our costs.

What is Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)?

Noise is not a new problem in the industry, but for a long time, it has tended to be accepted as simply part of the job. In many industries, the harmful effects of noise are not appreciated or because it is thought that nothing can be done about them. The effects of noise on hearing cannot be estimated without taking into account the intensity of noise the duration and distribution of exposure to it. Obviously, exposure to steady, loud noise for a period of years is more harmful than exposure for a period of days. Exposure for eight hours per day is more harmful than exposure for two hours.

Exposure to excessive noise causes deafness which may be severe if the exposure continued for a long time.

How common is noise induced hearing loss?

Noise induced hearing loss are ‘historic’ claims, meaning they were predominately more common in the construction, steel, shipbuilding and coal mining industries and other ‘heavy’ environments such as airports or factories. There have been several developments in the law relating to noise exposure in the workplace since 1963 when it was first officially recognised as a problem. Industries such as construction and factory workers stand a higher risk of developing NIHL. People working in the military and those working in nightclubs and bars are also vulnerable to this condition. Over the past 75-years, OH Parsons has successfully awarded a significant amount of our clients with compensation ranging from various industrial disease matters, including noise induced hearing loss.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a noise recognised by the individual but not audible to a third party. It is often likened to ‘ringing’, ‘whooshing’ or ‘crackling’ in the individual’s head. The current theory is that the ‘sound’ of Tinnitus is created by the auditory system attempting to reconcile damage to the nerves or hair cells within the inner ear. The result is a form of turbulence that creates an intrusive noise of variable duration and intensity.

In some cases, the effects of Tinnitus have been so bad as to drive the sufferer to feelings of anxiety and depression which may well warrant further expert evidence for the purposes of fully assessing quantum including consideration of equipment, care costs and future treatment.

How much noise is too much noise?

It is generally agreed that, if workers are exposed to eight hours a day, five days a week, to a continuous steady noise of 85 decibels or more, it is desirable to introduce a program of noise reduction or hearing conversation. This is a level of noise in which normal speech cannot easily be heard. At a distance of a few feet communication can be achieved only by shouting. Frequency, as well as intensity, must be considered. High frequencies are more dangerous than low at the same pressure levels. 

It is the legal duty of employers to reduce the risk to their employees’ health by controlling the noise they are exposed to whilst at work.

What are the signs of work-related hearing loss?

If workers begin to find it difficult to hear and understand everyday speech, it must well be that they are being exposed to excessive noise. The effect may not show itself for some considerable time, therefore the following should be considered: 

  • Do workers find it difficult to hear each other speak while they are at work in a noisy environment?
  • Have workers complained of head noises or ringing in the ears after working in noise for several hours?
  • Have workers who have been exposed to very high noise levels for short periods experienced temporary deafness, severe enough for them to seek medical advice?
  • Have workers exposed for longer periods complained of a loss of hearing that has had the effect of muffling speech and certain other sounds? Have they been told by their families they are becoming deaf?
  • Has there been a higher labour turnover in workshops or sections where there is a lot of noise?

Efforts should be made to reduce noise if the above questions suggest problems with excessive noise, either by reducing the exposure of workers to the noise, or to provide them with ear protection, or both if necessary. 

How should my employer have protected me from an industrial deafness?

A noise risk assessment provides an employer with information to ensure that risks are adequately controlled. A good noise risk assessment should: 

  • Identify where there is risk from exposure to noise
  • Identify who may be affected
  • Include a comparison of employees’ exposure to the relevant action levels and limits
  • Describe the actions that the employer needs to take to ensure the risks are controlled
  • Identify any employees that require hearing tests and commission audiometry

Employers should also consider whether noisy equipment could be replaced with a quieter alternative. Employers should also consider whether job rotation might help to reduce the risk of noise damage and whether physical alterations to the premises can be introduced by way of acoustic screens or barriers. An employer should consider or offer frequent work breaks to employees so that they get to stay away from constant noise for some time. Action plans in conjunction with risk assessments can provide evidence that employers are taking steps to reduce noise risks ‘as far as it is reasonably practicable. 

If noise risk cannot be eliminated, then hearing protection will need to be provided. As with other forms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hearing protection is a last resort. 

What is the process of industrial deafness claim?

You must prove that you have suffered an identifiable (measurable) hearing loss. A measurable hearing loss may be due to one (or a combination) of many causes, the most common being the ageing process. In addition to ‘injury’, you must, of course, prove that your (measured) hearing loss has been caused by exposure to the noise complained of.

As with any industrial deafness claim, your instructions will be crucial. Particularly if you have remained resident in the area where the work was/is situated you may be able to provide important information. In any event, instructions will be sought on:

    • Employments where exposure occurred
    • How the exposure occurred source
    • Warnings and preventive measures 
    • Factory surveys (for instance of dust level or noise levels)
    • Health tests (for instance lung function tests or audiograms) 
    • Witnesses- fellow former employees (and detail of similar or related illnesses suffered by them) 
    • Information going to limitation

How much compensation could I receive for an industrial deafness claim?

The amount of compensation you could claim for industrial deafness will depend on the extent of your injury, and any financial losses or costs you have incurred.

When assessing the level of general damages for your hearing loss, there are a number of factors that need to be considered including the impact on your everyday life, your work and hobbies and whether your hearing can be improved by wearing a hearing aid. The Judicial College Guidelines (JCG) provide useful guidance on the valuation for each bracket of deafness severity. In determining where within the JCG bracket a particular case falls to be classified, reference also needs to be made to comparator authorities (i.e. previous reported cases in which the court has made an assessment of general damages).

Compensation is not awarded simply for the suffering caused by the hearing loss and/ or tinnitus (the damages for pain and suffering and loss of amenity or ‘PSLA’, sometimes known as ‘general damages’) but also for any past or future financial loss which an individual has or will incur. Financial loss can include, for example, loss of earnings, compensation for any disadvantage on the labour market, the cost of hearing aids or treatment by an expert. 

The normal principles apply to the quantification of the claim for special damages in deafness cases. However, in the vast majority of NIHL claims the only item of special damage is the cost of hearing aids. 

What is the time limit for claiming for idustrial deafness compensation?

A claim for industrial deafness caused by negligence or breach of duty shall not be brought after the expiry of 3-years from; the date on which the cause of action occurred, or the date of knowledge of the person injured.

The situation of NIHL claims is complicated by the fact symptoms of hearing loss frequently do not become apparent to claimants until many years after exposure ceases, when the effects of age-associated hearing loss are superimposed on their condition, and typically deteriorate gradually thereafter. Establishing exactly when the claimant became aware of their hearing loss and when they made a connection between their symptoms and their occupational noise exposure can be complex. 

A claim brought outside of the three-year window is stature barred. In the event a claim is statute barred the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case. There is an exception to this, under section 33 of the Limitation Act. If you believe that your matter is approaching the 3-year period, then please contact OH Parsons so that we can discuss your options. 

How long will my hearing loss claim take?

Hearing claims are often settled out of court if the employer admitted to his responsibility and agrees to pay the compensation amount without much fuss. However, if he fails to admit the claim or agrees to pay a reasonable sum then we may have to issue court proceedings and the entire process may take up to a few years depending on the complexity of the case. Negotiations and settlements are considered throughout the process between both parties in order to settle without the need to go to court. 

Do I need to attend a medical for NIHL?

You will need to attend a medical which forms part of your medical evidence. The medical expert will measure/assess your hearing (or have an audiologist do so) and that procedure will, almost invariably, be way of Pure Tone Audiometry. 

Can I get early compensation payment?

Interim payments are more common in complex personal injury claims rather than industrial deafness cases. At OH Parsons we will negotiate throughout your claim to ensure you receive compensation as quickly as possible.

Will I lose my job if I claim against my employer?

Legally an employer cannot dismiss you unfairly or wrongfully for pursuing a claim against them; however, depending on your length of employment and relationship with your employer it is advisable to consider whether you wish to take this route as it may affect your working relationship between you and your employer. This could affect future potential pay rises, bonuses, training and development and promotions.

The company is no longer in business. Can I still claim?

If a company has ceased trading and been removed from the register, the starting point when proceeding against a dissolved company is to identify who provided employers’ liability insurance to that company. Whilst it may be possible to restore a company to the Register of Companies held by Companies House for the purpose of pursuing action against it, there is no point in obtaining a judgment against such a company unless there is an insurer standing behind it to meet liability for compensation and costs. On that basis, an early investigation is necessary to identify the insurance history for the defendant company. 

Can I claim if I am on Universal Credit? 

Yes, you can claim if on Universal Credit as there are no requirements that you need to be employed or be on benefits if claiming or pursuing against a former or current employer. 

If you are receiving industrial injuries disablement benefit which is a weekly benefit paid to people who become disabled due to an accident at work, or a prescribed disease caused by work The DWP’s Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) can seek to recover benefits that have been paid to you from the defendant’s insurers.

What are the four levels of deafness?

There are four most common levels of hearing loss as classified by audiologists: 

  1. Mild Hearing Loss- The quietest sounds people with mild hearing loss can hear are between 25 and 40dB. This generally means understanding quiet conversations, particularly in noise. 
  2. Moderate Hearing Loss- On average, someone with moderate hearing loss cannot hear sounds that are less than 40-75dB. This is if you have difficulty hearing or understanding conversational speech, unable to hear the ringing of a doorbell or a telephone.
  3. Severe Hearing Loss- Someone with severe hearing loss cannot or has difficulty hearing or understanding group conversations and loud speech without hearing aids. This generally falls between 81-90dB. 
  4. Profound Hearing Loss- These are generally 90+ dB and for those who have difficulty understanding loud speech and sounds.

What is No Win No Fee industrial deafness compensation claims? 

A Conditional Fee Agreement is a technical term for ‘No Win, No Fee’. Under a conditional fee agreement (CFA) your solicitor will not charge you for their work if your claim is unsuccessful, so you won’t have to pay them a penny. However, if your claim is successful the defendants will pay your compensation and your solicitor’s fees. 

Solicitors will only take on a case if they believe that they have good prospects of winning. When you win, your solicitor receives a ‘success fee’, to recognise the risk they take working on a No Win No Fee basis. The success fee is a percentage of your compensation paid directly to your solicitor. The standard percentage solicitors charge is 25%. 

How OH Parsons can help with your industrial deafness claim?

If you are unsure of whether you are eligible to make a claim for industrial deafness, get in touch with our specialist industrial disease team at OH Parsons LLP. We have many years’ experience successfully claiming compensation for victims of industrial deafness who have not been protected by their employers. 

Our goal is to make sure you get the compensation you deserve. We always take a proactive and professional approach to the cases we take on and will always keep you informed as to how your case is progressing. 

At OH Parsons LLP, we have a team of solicitors who are experienced in providing legal advice and support to those with industrial deafness. To speak to someone about making a claim, call OH Parsons LLP today. 

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