Thousands of injury at work claims from noise exposure

Many hundreds of workers are in the process of taking action against their employers because they believe their hearing has been damaged through the course of their work. Although often not considered a typical ‘injury at work,’ many different types of worker face health problems because of exposure to noise at work.

Communication workers are one of these groups. They are at risk of exposure to loud, continuous, high pitched noises which can cause long-term damage. The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) has reported 1,500 claims arising from the use of oscillators or amplifiers. ‘Green set’ and ‘yellow set’ oscillators have been used in headsets to track cable faults by transmitting a constant high pitched sound. Many companies have discontinued the use of these headsets because of the health risks that they bring but other companies continue to use them.

One of the main problems with the headsets is that they can cause Tinnitus. Tinnitus is the perception of sound within the body, most often a ringing noise. It actually comes from within the body, rather than outside. It can also take the form of buzzing or humming. Pulsatile Tinnitus is when the sound has the same beat as the person’s pulse. Tinnitus is most commonly caused by damage to the hearing nerves inside the inner ear. It can be caused by a cold, a blow to the head or prolonged exposure to loud noise, among other factors. A 2007 study carried out by The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) found that one in seven people in the UK have experienced tinnitus and around one in 100 people have experienced long-term tinnitus.

HSE statistics indicate that in 2009/10, approx 21,000 people who had worked in the last 12 months were suffering from hearing problems which they believed to be work-related. This indicates that hearing loss as an injury at work is a major problem.

One worker received £22,500 compensation after an explosion at work left him partially deaf. He saw a specialist doctor shortly after the incident who recommended a digital hearing aid, which did help to recover his hearing.

In another incident, a welder won £12,000 compensation after losing part of his hearing capacity, working in a loud factory environment. Regulations have been introduced regarding acceptable levels of noise in the workplace but many older workers suffer from hearing problems which originated from before these regulations were introduced.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (the Noise Regulations) were introduced to protect workers from noise. If workers are exposed to 85 decibels or above (as a daily or weekly average), they must be provided with hearing protection and there must be specially designated hearing protection zones. If noise levels are above 80 decibels, employers must conduct a thorough risk assessment, assessing the risk to workers’ health. Workers must also be provided with information and training about protecting their hearing. The upper limit of exposure at any point is 87 decibels, taking into account reduction from hearing protection.

If an employer fails to put these measures into place and workers are exposed to higher levels of noise, the employer may be considered negligent and may face prosecution. However, workers also have a responsibility to ensure they are wearing the hearing protection provided in hearing protection zones and to report any problems as soon as possible.


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