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Industrial deafness – know your rights

We all accept that noise is part of our everyday lives, however, if noise in a workplace reaches a certain level, the employer has a duty, by law, to protect their employees’ hearing.

We can prevent hearing loss caused by work but once your hearing has gone, it won’t come back.

It is estimated there are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who suffer Industrial Deafness due to harmful levels of noise at work.

What are the limits?

Noise levels are measured in decibels and to give you an idea of some average decibel measurements, you could expect to hear the following:

Bedroom or quiet living room — 40dBA
Normal conversation — 60dBA
Vacuum cleaner (10ft) — 70dBA
Food blender (2ft) or Pneumatic drill (50ft) — 80dBA
Heavy truck or motorbike (25ft) — 90dBA
Chain saw — 110dBA

If noise levels reach an average of 80dBA your employer must:

Make every effort to reduce noise levels by replacing/modifying /maintaining equipment and machinery.
Explain the risks and explain how to protect your hearing.
Provide PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

If noise levels reach an average of 85dBA your employer must:

Comply with all of the above.
Enforce the compulsory wearing of hearing protection.
Clearly mark hearing protection zones.

As a general rule of thumb, if you have to raise your voice to communicate with colleagues over a distance of 3 feet then the noise levels are likely to be in excess of 85dBA. If you have to shout then the noise levels are in excess of 90dBA.

Have you been affected?

Most people know when an accident has occurred at work because of the dramatic effects and impacts they can impose, but very few employees are aware of industrial ‘illnesses’ – such as ‘industrial deafness’. This is because the damage being done to the hearing happens very slowly, over a long period of time. As a result, the symptoms go unnoticed in the early stages, manifesting themselves after a prolonged period, when you are then more likely to put the cause of your hearing problems down to the ageing process. You may never be aware that your symptoms are due to your working environment.

Do you work using noisy machinery or power tools?

Do you work in a noisy industry, such as construction, road repair, demolition, woodworking, plastics processing, engineering, textiles, general fabrication, forging, pressing or stamping, paper or board making, foundries, canning or bottling, mining, or one of many other similar industries?
Are there noises because of impacts? (e.g. hammering, drop forging, pneumatic impact tools etc), explosive sources such as cartridge-operated tools or guns?

If you have worked in what you consider to be a noisy environment, without adequate hearing protection, the chances are you may have been affected and are suffering from some degree of Industrial Deafness (Noise Induced Hearing Loss).

The following are common signs that your hearing has already started to suffer:

You may find that conversation starts to become difficult, especially if there is any background noise.
You may find it difficult to use the telephone.
Your family may complain that you set the television volume too high.
You may suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ear)

What you should do next

The only way to determine if you’ve been affected by noise is to have a hearing test.

If you are still working in a noisy environment the first thing you and your employer should do is ensure you are doing as much as possible to prevent any further damage to your hearing. By law, your employer should find out the levels of the noise that you are exposed to and assess the risk to your hearing.

Depending on the severity of the noise your employer must comply with the following:

Control the noise exposure by ‘engineering’ it out.  They may fit a silencer, or put in screens or barriers.
Change the layout of your working environment or the way you work.  They must not rely on hearing protectors alone.
They should provide you with the quietest machinery that will do the job.
Provide you with a choice of adequate hearing protection.
Send you for regular hearing checks.
Provide you with correct training and information.
Consult you and your representatives.
Whilst the onus is on the employer to protect your hearing, you should do all you can to remain safe.

You should always:

Co-operate with your employer.
Wear any hearing protection that you are given.
Look after your hearing protection.
Report any problems immediately.

You should never remove hearing protection in an Ear Protection Zone even for short periods. Removing protection in an environment with 107dBA for just one minute would give a noise dose equal to the recommended level of 80dBA for 8 hours.

Hearing Loss Compensation?

If your employer has exposed you to excessive noise levels, and your hearing has been damaged as a result, you may be entitled to compensation. Many thousands of innocent victims have already received substantial awards for the permanent damage they have sustained. Typically, awards in noise induced deafness claims range from £3,000 to £20,000.

Claiming what is owed to you is a simple process and can be administered under the terms of a risk free ‘No-win, No-Fee’ agreement with a solicitor. However, you only get one chance to make a claim for noise induced hearing loss, so when you do, you need to make sure you have the support of professionals who have the right experience and know-how to guide you through the process and maximize the award you’ll receive.

Atrium Legal Services

Atrium are a great company to handle an industrial hearing loss claim. You can contact them through their website: