We’ve come a long way here in the UK since the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) laid the foundations for improving safety practices at work. In the last 40 years deaths and serious injuries at work have decreased dramatically, but despite improvements, there are still many people every year who have to start thinking about claiming compensation because they have been involved in an accident or have been injured at work. One of the most common reasons for claiming compensation is for industrial hearing loss, and if you’ve been affected, there are lots you need to know before picking up the phone to start your claim.
Symptoms of Industrial Hearing Loss
There is a variety of different terms used to refer to this sort of hearing difficulty. As well as industrial hearing loss, you may also see the terms industrial deafness, acoustic shock, occupational deafness or noise induced hearing loss. All of these terms refer to the same range of conditions and symptoms – difficulties in hearing because of exposure to noise at work at some point in the past. Difficulty in hearing is the most obvious symptom of hearing loss, and this can be in one ear, or in both. This can lead to difficulties in following conversations or struggling to hear what is being said when there is background noise. Another common symptom is tinnitus, which causes the sufferer to hear buzzing, hissing or ringing sounds in their ears. All of these symptoms can be permanent, or can come and go.
Diagnosing hearing loss is fairly straightforward. Visit your GP who will take a medical history, and refer you on to hospital if required for further examinations and hearing tests. Diagnosing that some degree of hearing difficulty has been experienced is the easy bit, but the difficult part of the process can be establishing that the hearing loss has been directly caused by the sort of work which the sufferer used to do, and then making a successful compensation claim.
What sorts of jobs are commonly associated with industrial hearing loss?
The list of jobs where an employee can be exposed to noisy environments is almost endless, but the vast majority of claims are made by people who were formerly employed in one of four key industries:
- Ship building
- Building and Construction
- Aviation or airfields
- Nightclubs and music
Cases of industrial hearing loss can also be associated with steel making, textiles and other heavy engineering occupations. As far back as 1963, there was an awareness that exposure to loud noise at work could have implications for hearing in the future. Nowadays, employers have a responsibility to their staff to keep them safe at work, carrying out proper risk assessments for noise levels and supplying appropriate protective equipment such as earplugs or ear defenders to staff. Many employers are still negligent in this though, and even if you suspect your hearing loss was caused by a noisy working environment decades ago, you may still have good grounds for making a compensation claim. Seek advice from a specialist claims management company or solicitor to talk through your individual circumstances as every case is different.
Claiming for Industrial Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can leave people feeling isolated and can have a huge impact on both quality of life and earning potential. In order to claim for industrial hearing loss you have to prove two key elements – that some degree of hearing loss has been experienced, and that the hearing loss has been caused by working practices at some point in the past. The first part of the evidence is simple, as your doctor or hospital audiologist can supply records and notes to support your claim.
Establishing what has caused the hearing loss is trickier, and will involve statements from experts, the person making the claim, colleagues and their former employer about working practices at the time and what levels of noise were experienced. There are many claims management companies dealing with this type of work, and their expertise in putting a case together means that most industrial hearing loss compensation claims are settled out of court. Most claims management companies operate on a no win no fee basis (also sometimes called conditional fee) which means that if your case is unsuccessful, you will not be out of pocket.
Timescales for Making a Claim
Most claims for compensation after an injury at work have to be made within 3 years of the accident or injury happening, so why can people claim for industrial hearing loss many decades after leaving the job concerned? The legislation states that compensation claims must be made within three years of the injury or within three years of you realising that you have been injured. As the effects of industrial hearing loss are often not felt for decades, this means claims can be made going back many years. It also means though that as soon as you make the first visit to the GP regarding hearing problems that the three year countdown clock starts ticking, so it’s always advisable to start the claims process as soon as you can after realising that something is wrong.
Every claim for hearing loss is different, and as the majority of cases are settled out of court with a confidentiality agreement, it can be hard to get accurate figures on sums claimants are being awarded. Once you have made an initial appointment with a solicitor or claims company and have discussed the details of your case, they should be able to give you a more accurate estimate about what you might expect to achieve. As a very rough guide, occasional hearing loss or tinnitus usually means a claim for compensation of around £5000, and total hearing loss in both ears combined with tinnitus can mean a claim for up to £70,000.