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High levels of sustained noise can cause deafness and tinnitus (a persistent whooshing or ringing noise) while short bursts of very high noise levels known as 'acoustic shock' may also have the same effect.
By law, your employer has a duty to provide the appropriate safety equipment such as ear defenders and ensure the work environment minimises the risk of causing damage to your hearing. Employers who have not fulfilled these duties have breached the law and, more importantly, put your health at risk so you have every right to make a claim for any deafness or tinnitus you have suffered.
Some people are reluctant to bring a hearing loss claim against their employer fear of losing their job or damaging their prospects for promotion. The law protects employees from victimisation in these circumstances. Others who have retired may assume their hearing loss is simply due to the ageing process.
If you do decide to go ahead with a deafness or tinnitus claim, you need to make it within three years of the date you knew your hearing loss was caused by your work. If your employer no longer exists, a claim is till possible as long as we can identify your employer's insurer during the period of exposure. If your claim is successful it may well include the cost of state-of-the-art hearing aids which are not be available on the NHS.
How do I make an industrial deafness and tinnitus claim
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) require employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. Employees have duties too – if you are provided with ear defenders, you must use them.
The Regulations require an employer to take action to reduce the noise exposure that could cause industrial deafness or tinnitus and provide protection if the noise exposure cannot be reduced enough by using other methods.
There are legal limits on permissible levels of noise exposure in the workplace, details of which can be found on the Health & Safety Executive website. If you think your employer hasn’t complied with these regulations and failed to protect your health and safety at work, you should first seek medical advice and then contact a specialist law firm such as Access Legal.
These claims can be complex and demanding, so it's important that your legal team specialise in this work and have good, established, relationships with the appropriate medical and other experts whose evidence will be crucial to your claim.
If your employer is no longer trading it may still be possible to bring a claim if the relevant insurer who covered the risk at the time of exposure can be identified.
It is sometimes possible to get legal advice through your trade union, which may have arrangements in place with a specified panel solicitor. You are not obliged to use the firm proposed and can ask any law firm to represent you in these cases.
If I have an industrial deafness and tinnitus case
To establish if you have a case for making an industrial deafness or tinnitus claim it’s first got to be confirmed that you are indeed suffering from industrial deafness or tinnitus.
Hearing loss may be a symptom of another illness, but if confirmed by medical examination that you are suffering with some form of noise induced hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud and excessive noises in the workplace, we can take things further.
The next step in determining whether you have a case is to establish that the condition has been caused by exposure to a particular noise source and obtain evidence to that effect supported by witness statements, noise surveys, acoustic expert evidence and documentary evidence from the employers.
We then need to show that at the time of exposure your employer could have foreseen that you might suffer from noise-induced hearing loss or an associated condition. These cases can be aggressively defended, with the other side citing pre-existing conditions, but nothing relieves an employer of their liability if they did not provide protective equipment or take precautions in order to prevent the harm you suffered.
If we prove that more likely than not it was your employer’s failure to comply with regulations and neglect of their duty to protect you in the workplace which directly caused your hearing loss or tinnitus, you will be well placed to make a successful industrial deafness claim.
Industrial deafness and tinnitus government help and benefits
There are a number of state benefits available to people suffering from industrial deafness or tinnitus if it was caused by conditions at work. Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) provides for payment of weekly benefits to people who are suffering from certain diseases contracted in the course of different types of employment.
These diseases are referred to as 'prescribed diseases' and are listed in regulations issued by the Secretary of State. The scheme covers more than 70 illnesses and includes deafness, but you can’t claim IIDB if you were self-employed.
You can get more information about what you may be entitled to and how to claim by calling the Department for Work and Pensions Benefit Enquiry Line on 0800 882 200 or visiting the gov.uk website.
Benefit entitlement starts from the date you contacted the DWP, not the date you contracted the disease or got a diagnosis, so it's important not to delay calling them.
National charities such as Action on Hearing Loss (the new name for the RNID) and Hearing Link aim to help people with tinnitus or hearing loss, irrespective of how it was caused. The Hearing Link website has a very useful list of the various organisations throughout the UK who can provide information and support.
More about industrial deafness and tinnitus claims
It seems only common sense that if you are exposed to high noise levels for a long period of time, you will damage your hearing. Unless you are a real heavy metal devotee, the most common exposure to excessive noise many of us will experience is in the workplace.
Complete or partial hearing loss can be caused by persistent high noise levels or sudden high frequency, high intensity bursts known as acoustic shock. Both can also cause tinnitus, a ringing, buzzing or whooshing sound in the ears that persists even after the external noise has ceased. If the tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss and dizziness, it's possible that you may have Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance.
Industrial deafness is not restricted to those in construction, engineering or heavy industries using machinery such as grinders, saws, jack hammers, drills or presses. Workers in textile factories or mills using looms or weaving machines are equally at risk. People who work in call centres where the volume on their headsets is turned up too loud are also at risk from hearing loss, tinnitus and a range of health issues. In fact any workplace could potentially expose you to excessive noise and damage your hearing.
If you believe you have suffered industrial hearing loss or tinnitus, you should consult you GP to confirm that it was not caused by a different, treatable problem. If it turns out that it is due to conditions at work, you may be entitled to make an industrial deafness claim and receive compensation.
I joined Access Legal in 2008 as head of the Personal Injury Team in Birmingham and was made a Partner in 2011. I have been undertaking personal injury work for over 20 years, specialising in industrial disease claims. I only act for the victims of industrial diseases and accidents.View full profile
'You need to have a legal team who are caring, who you absolutely trust and who will tell you the truth. Certainly from our point of view Denise Stephens from Access Legal has been absolutely amazing.'
Access Legal's team of experts specialise in industrial deafness and noise induced hearing loss claims and provide an individual service that is sympathetic and supportive of what you need to achieve.Why Access Legal