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Hearing loss: when your employer may be liable

Hearing loss at work hit the headlines recently when a former viola player sought to sue the Royal Opera House for damage to his hearing, allegedly caused when he was positioned too close to the brass section in the orchestra while rehearsing for Wagners Die Walküre in 2012.

While most people are not forced to sit next to trombones and trumpets as part of their job, many employees are exposed to noisy work environments which can cause hearing damage. Katherine Flashman Kitson, Director and Head of Litigation at Parnalls Solicitors, explains when a compensation claim for hearing loss may be possible.

‘Employers have a legal duty to identify and minimise the risk of personal injury to employees, and this extends to protecting them from the risk of hearing damage caused by exposure to excessive noise levels’, explains Katherine

What steps must my employer take?

Your employer is obliged to take all reasonable steps to prevent or reduce the risk of you being injured or falling ill as a result of exposure to noise while at work.  This includes:

  • carrying out assessments to identify potential noise risks;
  • taking steps to eliminate those risks or, where this is not possible, to reduce the likelihood of those risks materialising and causing harm;
  • providing protective equipment in appropriate cases;
  • supplying information and training on the use of protective equipment and on safe systems of working more generally;
  • ensuring any noise levels that cannot be avoided are kept within recommended daily and weekly limits; and
  • monitoring noise levels where an identified risk of hearing damage has been noted.

How do I distinguish between ‘normal’ noise and noise that may be harmful?  

Damage to your hearing can be caused by a one-off, excessively loud noise or by continuous exposure to a lower level of noise over a prolonged period.  Examples of types of noise that may pose a danger, include:

  • loud bangs caused by an explosion, gun shots or hammering;
  • loud bursts of noise caused by the operation of power tools and other machinery;
  • prolonged or intrusive noise associated with traditionally noisy industries, such as construction and agriculture;
  • prolonged or intrusive noise associated with certain work environments, such as nightclubs or children’s nurseries; and
  • background noise levels that mean you need to raise your voice to carry on a conversation.

How can I tell if my hearing has been affected?

The most obvious sign that your hearing may have been affected is if you struggle to hear as well as you used to, or if you suddenly find that you can hear little if anything at all.  However, there are other signs that something may be wrong, such as the onset of tinnitus which causes a debilitating continuous ringing in the ear, or the development of acoustic shock with has a range of symptoms including dizziness, muffled hearing and numbness or a burning sensation around the ear.

What should I do if my hearing has been damaged?

If you believe your hearing has been damaged as a result of your work environment, you should contact our personal injury solicitors who are experienced in handling work-based hearing loss claims, also known as ‘industrial deafness’ or ‘occupational deafness’.

They will assess your case and advise you on whether a claim may be possible and, if so, on how much compensation you are likely to receive.  You should not delay in seeking advice as there are time limits for making a claim.  Do not be put off seeking advice because the employer you believe was responsible is no longer in business: in cases like this, it is usually possible for a claim to be brought against their insurers.

If you need help with a hearing loss claim, or any other personal injury matter, please contact Katherine Flashman Kitson on 01566 772575 or email enquiries@parnalls.com

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

 

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