Industrial deafness or noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a hearing impairment caused by prolonged exposure to loud noises in some workplaces. Such environments include factories, constructions sites, bars and nightclubs.
In the UK, an estimated 14,000 workers developed a work-related hearing problem between 2018/19 and 2020/21. Since 2000, the number of industrial deafness fluctuated from 265 in 2001 and 325 in 2004, to a decrease to 95 cases in 2019.
This reduction could be due to the increasing number of regulations introduced over the years to protect the workers’ safety. These include keeping the noise levels under a maximum of 80-85 decibels and providing workers with personal protective equipment to reduce noise damage.
NIHL symptoms can affect one or both ears and might lead to permanent damage. Once a person’s hearing is damaged, it cannot be restored, but it could be improved by hearing aids. Losing your hearing can significantly lower your life quality and social interactions.
If you lost or damaged your hearing due to negligence, you might be entitled to make a noise induced hearing loss claim. To find out if you have a valid claim, call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser. Alternatively, you can enter your details into our online claim form to receive a call back.
Can I make a noise induced hearing loss claim?
Every employer has a duty of care to keep employees safe while at work. They should take all reasonable measures to prevent hearing damage from noise exposure. Failing to do so would make them liable for your hearing loss, and they might have to pay you compensation.
Depending on the circumstances of your hearing impairment, a solicitor can let you know if you might have a valid claim for hearing loss compensation. This is usually possible if:
- You were diagnosed with NIHL in the last three years
- Your employer breached their duty of care to take all reasonable measures to prevent damage to your hearing
- Their negligence caused you to develop a hearing impairment
Depending on the cause of NIHL, symptoms may be immediate or take many years to develop. As soon as you notice your hearing is deteriorating, you should seek medical advice. If an Audiologist determines that you suffered noise induced hearing loss, you should contact an expert solicitor.
The solicitor will give you an initial free consultation to find the details of your condition and your prospects of making a successful hearing loss claim. If you have a fair chance to receive compensation, you will be offered a no win no fee agreement, and your solicitor will guide you through the claiming process.
The first step towards making a successful claim is gathering relevant evidence to prove your hearing loss was caused by substandard health and safety practices at your workplace.
The most important piece of evidence is a specialist medical assessment. An Audiologist will give you an audiogram test and provide a medical report stating the damage you suffered to your hearing and how it could be corrected.
Besides the medical evidence, to prove your employer acted negligently, you will also have to provide information about:
- Your work tasks, patterns, the type of machinery you’re operating, etc.
- Whether you have been provided with hearing protection, when and what type
- The advice, training and instructions you received to protect yourself from noise damage to hearing
What is noise induced hearing loss (NIHL)?
Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a generic term that describes various types of hearing loss caused by loud sounds like:
Tinnitus refers to a ringing, buzzing or throbbing feeling in one or both ears. It affects around 15-20% of the population and can be caused by damage to the tiny hairs in the inner ear due to prolonged exposure to loud sounds.
According to Health and Safety Executive statistics, in 2013/2014, as many as 54 out of every 100,000 workers were affected by occupational deafness.
Acoustic shock syndrome
Acoustic shock syndrome describes an involuntary trauma response to a brief, unexpected and abrupt loud sound. The symptoms of acoustic shock syndrome can be immediate or delayed and could be short-lived or long-lasting. If symptoms persist, the condition can cause significant disability.
Acoustic trauma is an injury to the inner ear caused by long-term exposure to loud noises or a single, very loud noise. It can injure the eardrum, the small muscles or the tiny hairs in the ear. Acoustic trauma cannot be reversed, so you must always use protective equipment at work.
Noise induced hearing loss occurs when one of the inner ear structures is damaged due to exposure to loud sounds. The sounds we hear daily are usually at safe levels that don’t damage the hearing.
Prolonged exposure to loud sounds or even brief exposure to very loud noise can damage the sensitive structures in the inner ear and cause NIHL.
NIHL can be immediate or develop after many years of exposure. It might affect one or both ears, and the effects can be short-lived or permanent:
- Temporary NIHL is often caused by exposure to a sudden blasting sound, and symptoms can last from several hours to several days. Although the hearing will likely return to normal, the damage has occurred, and constant exposure to harmful sounds can lead to some degree of permanent hearing loss.
- Long-term NIHL usually occurs to people working in a noisy environment over a long period of time. Manufacturing, utility supply and construction work have the highest rate of long-term NIHL, with 4.1, 1.4 and 1.9 cases per 100,000 employees, respectively.
Once the damage is done, it cannot be reversed. But NIHL is the only completely preventable type of hearing loss, by taking precautions like:
- Wear earplugs or other protective equipment when working in a loud environment
- Know which noises can cause damage and move away from them
- Have your hearing tested if you suspect you might have hearing loss
- Be alert to hazardous sounds in the environment
NIHL can affect people of all ages. If you are exposed to risk factors at work and don’t take the necessary precautions, you will likely suffer hearing loss sooner or later.
If your employer acted negligently and didn’t provide instruction, training and protective equipment, they might be liable to compensate you for the pain and suffering caused by your hearing loss.
What are the symptoms of industrial deafness or hearing loss?
Workplace-related hearing loss can be prevented, but once your hearing is gone, it cannot come back. In Great Britain, it is estimated that more than 2 million people are exposed to dangerous noise levels at work. NIHL is the second most common reason for making a work injury claim.
Loud noises usually damage the cochlea, an essential component of the inner ear involved in hearing. Symptoms of noise induced hearing loss include:
- A feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear
- Difficulty hearing speech, especially if there’s a background noise
- Sensitivity to high-pitched or loud noises
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Pain in the ears after loud noise exposure
- Ringing, roaring or buzzing sounds in the ears
- Diplacusis or double hearing
- Speech that seems muffled or far away
- Feeling the need to raise the volume of electronic devices
- Difficulties in communicating face to face or over the phone
The symptoms may be immediate or develop over time and might last from minutes to days after exposure. The hearing may return, but if more cells get damaged over time, you can suffer permanent loss of hearing.
As the hearing fades, this can lead to more problems like:
- Social interaction problems
- Mobility issues
- Trouble sleeping
- Anxiety and depression
NIHL is preventable, but it cannot be cured. There are, however, several treatment options:
- Hearing aids that are placed outside or inside the ear. Some work by amplifying sound, while others also reduce background noise.
- Cochlear implants consist of an external device and an internal part surgically implanted in the inner ear to help directly stimulate the auditory nerves. They are typically used in the case of high-frequency hearing loss.
- Therapy to help you learn some techniques such as lip-reading to help improve your quality of life.
- Sound amplifiers include devices that can amplify the sound on your television or phone.
If you developed any NIHL symptoms due to poor workplace practices, you should speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation. They can let you know if you might be eligible to make noise induced hearing loss claim and answer any questions you might have.
Who is at risk of suffering noise induced hearing loss?
Every person of any age can be affected by NIHL if they are exposed to sudden deafening sounds or continuous loud noises. However, it is a concerning occupational risk in certain industries, with over 2 million people exposed to unacceptable levels of noise at work.
In the UK, a study conducted in 2002 showed that around 180,000 people between 35 and 64 years old developed severe hearing difficulties attributable to high noise levels at work. Considering also the tinnitus cases, this amounts to 350,000 people severely affected by NIHL due to working conditions.
There are some workplaces and professions with high rates of noise induced hearing loss, such as:
- Road maintenance
- Heavy industry
- Building sites
- Car manufacturing
- Bars and nightclubs
- The military
- Call centre employees
Exposure to vibrations may increase the risk of developing noise induced hearing loss. Mechanical vibrations to the hand caused by work equipment such as chainsaws, power drills or polishers can also cause vasoconstriction in the ears, contributing to the development of NIHL.
Your workplace might be causing you hearing loss if:
- You are exposed to intrusive noise for most of the working day
- You have to raise your voice to have a conversation with someone standing 2 meters away
- You use power tools or machinery for more than half an hour a day
- You have muffled hearing at the end of the day
Leaving hearing problems untreated can lead to significant or permanent loss of hearing. Early intervention can help prevent additional damage.
In loud working environments, your employer has the duty to assess the noise level you are exposed to at work and take the required safety measures, but you also have the responsibility to:
- Cooperate and properly wear any hearing protection you are given all the time while working
- Look after your protective equipment
- Report any problems with your noise control devices straight away
- Let your employer know about any hearing problems you might be facing straight away
Is my employer responsible for protecting me against hearing loss?
Employers have the legal duty to take all reasonable measures to prevent and reduce exposure to loud noise at work and ensure their employees are not put at any foreseeable risk.
Noise and the Worker, published in 1963, was the first publication highlighting the dangers of excessive noise and giving employers guidelines on protecting employees from exposure.
Unfortunately, loud noise is a part of many industries and cannot be avoided entirely. For the moment, there is no suitable substitute for high-powered equipment and heavy machinery that produce deafening sounds.
There are several laws that regulate health and safety at work, aiming to safeguard employees from NIHL, the most recent being The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. According to the legislation, employers have a duty of care to assess the risk to employees and take actions to reduce noise exposure:
- Use quieter equipment when possible
- Reduce the noise levels by fitting silencers on machinery
- Ensure the legal limits of noise are not surpassed
- Provide instruction, training and supervision to employees
- Carry out regular health surveillance where there’s a risk for NIHL
- Provide staff with hearing protection equipment
- Give reasonable breaks away from the noisy environment
- Install sound barriers and absorbent materials
- Regularly consult workers and their representatives
- Change the work pattern or layout of the workplace
According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), your hearing can suffer damage over time if you are exposed to noises over 85dB, approximately the level of noise a food blender would produce.
If a working environment reaches 80 to 85 decibels, your employer must assess the risk to your hearing and take the necessary actions to reduce it. Failing to do so would make them liable for hearing loss compensation if you suffer NIHL.
To find out more about your employer’s legal duty and whether you can make a hearing loss claim against them, call 0800 678 1410 or enter your contact details for a free consultation with a legal adviser.
How much compensation can I claim for noise induced hearing loss?
If your employer breaks their duty of care to keep you safe from loud noises at work, you might be entitled to make a noise induced hearing loss claim against them. If your claim is successful, you could receive compensation for:
Special damages for the financial losses you suffered because of your NIHL condition. These include both present and future losses, such as:
- Medical expenses
- Transportation costs
- Lost wages, including future losses
- Hearing aids
- Cost of therapy and psychological support
- Special equipment costs such as phones and adapted doorbells
- Costs of care
Special damages are often easy to calculate by summing up all the financial expenses incurred due to the hearing loss. It is less straightforward to calculate the cost of future medical care and wage loss, but this can be assessed with the help of expert witnesses and other available evidence.
General damages compensate for the non-monetary aspects suffered because of your hearing damage, including:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional and psychological trauma
- Loss of consortium
- Reduced quality of life
- Inability to pursue a hobby
- Loss of social interaction
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Mental anguish
It might be a lot more difficult to calculate the amount of hearing loss compensation for general damages. They are subjective losses, unique to each claimant and hard to quantify.
A suitable award is calculated based on the severity of the injury and referring to similar cases and the guidelines published by the Judicial College. Accordingly, you could get:
- Up to £5,590 for minor deafness or tinnitus only
- £6,910 – £11,820 for slight tinnitus plus slight deafness
- Around £11,000 for mild tinnitus or deafness only
- £11,820 – £13,970 for mild tinnitus with some hearing loss
- £13,970 – £27,890 for moderate tinnitus and hearing loss or moderate to severe tinnitus alone
- £27,890 – £42,730 for total hearing loss in one ear
- £85,170 – £102,890 for complete loss of hearing
- £102,890 – £132,040 for total deafness and loss of speech
How long do I have to make a hearing loss compensation claim?
In every noise induced hearing loss claim due to an occupational hazard, you will have three years to start a claim after:
- You were exposed to an extremely loud sound in the workplace, causing you to develop immediate symptoms.
- You first knew or should have reasonably suspected that you developed hearing difficulties that might have been caused by exposure to loud noises at the workplace. This is the date of knowledge of your injury and is determined considering your circumstances and the timeline and severity of your NIHL symptoms.
Often, NIHL takes many years to show symptoms of damage to your inner ear. You maybe even left your workplace by then, or your employer might have closed down. As long as you start legal proceedings within three years from the date of knowledge of your injury, you are still entitled to claim hearing loss compensation.
The last date you can start a hearing loss claim is known as the claim limitation date. If you do not begin legal proceedings within the time limit, your case will be statute-barred, and you will be no longer entitled to claim compensation.
However, you should never wait until the last moment to seek legal advice. The claim limitation date refers to the last day you can start legal proceedings. Gathering evidence and preparing the legal documents could take a lot of time. Solicitors don’t usually take on a claim with less than six months remaining until the limitation date.
If you feel you may have a valid noise induced hearing loss claim, call 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation with a legal adviser and find out when your date of knowledge might have been.
Can I claim on a no win no fee basis?
Before taking on your case, a solicitor will offer you a free initial consultation to establish how and when you developed NIHL and how severe your symptoms are. If they believe your case is solid and, you have no other form of legal expenses insurance, they will offer you a no win no fee agreement.
Also called a conditional fee agreement, this is the preferred way of funding a personal injury claim. For you, making a no win no fee agreement is a win-win; if your claim is successful, you will receive the hearing loss compensation you deserve. If your case fails, you don’t have to pay a single penny to anyone.
At the beginning of your claim, your solicitor will take out an insurance policy on your behalf that offers comprehensive coverage if you end up losing the case. The insurance will cover all the legal charges incurred during claiming, both for you and the defendant.
If you receive compensation, you will only have to cover the cost of the insurance policy and pay a success fee to your solicitor. The success fee covers their services and cannot exceed 25% of your compensation award.