What Is Noise Induced Hearing Loss?

A Noise Induced hearing loss (NIHL) also known as Industrial Hearing loss, is strictly speaking a work related condition that is common in industries where excessive noise is prevalent. These excessive noise levels can cause permanent hearing impairments which majorly impact upon an individual’s everyday life and in extreme cases prevent individuals from participating in activities that they enjoy. NIHL often appears years and sometimes even decades after the original exposure, most suffers therefore do not identify their work as the root cause. NIHL is a condition caused through exposure to excessive noise level which damage sensitive cells in the inner ear which can overtime result in sounds becoming distorted or muffled. An individual may find it difficult to understand other people when they speak or have to turn the volume on the radio/television up. The damage from NIHL, combined with ageing and other factors, can lead to hearing loss severe enough that you may need hearing aids to magnify the sounds around you.

Loud noise exposure can also cause tinnitus- a ringing, buzzing, or roaring in the ears of head. Tinnitus may possibly subside over time, but can sometimes be constant or occasionally throughout an individual’s life.

Noise at work and its Regulation

A People have been aware of NIHL for well over 100 years and some employers have always provided hearing protection, even as early as the 1940’s. For legal purposes however, the date in which the industry was deemed to have wide spread knowledge in respect of the damage caused by noise in the workplace was 1963. In 1963 the minister of Labour Published “Noise and the Worker”, the first major publication on the subject. It made employers aware of the dangers of excessive noise and recommended what they needed to do to protection their employees from exposure to excessive noise. At that time it was not possible to be precise about measuring noise levels or the amount of damage that certain noise levels caused, it was therefore suggested that employees should not be exposed to noise levels above 90dB over an eight hour working day. Based on later research, the “code of Practice for Reducing Noise “was introduced in 1972. Again this referred to an average noise level exposure of 90 dB but did not suggest that exposure below that level was necessarily safe. Suggestions were made for steps that should be taken by employers to reduce the level of exposure to noise and for the provision of hearing protection. However, no specific legislation was brought in to protect employees from noise exposure.

The Noise at work Regulations 1989

It was not until 1 January 1990 through “The Noise at Work Regulations 1989” that legislation protected employees in most industries. These regulations were significant because they were the first to specifically address the issue of noise in the work place and to set down two actions levels. These two action levels were: 85db and 90db and both gave rise to steps that employers should take to reduce their employee’s exposure to high noise levels.

These steps meant employers were obliged to clearly mark any dangerous areas as Ear Protection Zones and had to provide their employees with information on the effects noise could have on their hearing. Employers also had to carry out a number of other assessments that are explained further within the 1989 regulations.

If the employer therefore, could/can be shown to have not taken the steps detailed in the 1989 Act, anyone who has been exposed to excessive noise (Levels above 85db on a “daily basis”) from 1990 can make a claim against their employer for damage to their hearing. (Subject to the circumstances of each individual case).


Wider protection in the work place

A The law was extended by the “control of Noise at Work Regulations 2006” which gave protection against lower levels of noise exposure of 80db and 85db. The employer’s responsibility to protect their employees from NIHL has been increased by these regulations. The long-term effect will hopefully see a reduction in noise-related injuries, however the years of exposure prior will mean that there are still a number of claims that could be successful in the future.

Making a claim

When deciding whether or not to pursue a deafness claim it is important that you bring a claim within three years of the date you became aware or ought to have acknowledged that your deafness could have been as a result to your exposure to noise in the work place.

Establishing you are suffering from Noise induced hearing loss and/or tinnitus is the next step. This is confirmed by having an Audiogram (a graphic representation of your hearing ability. Once the NIHL has been proven, the condition must be shown to have to have been caused by exposure to a particular noise source, i.e. by a particular period of employment. This requires evidence of the nature of the exposure to the noise in the work place, including witness evidence and documentary evidence, which will be in the possession of you employers.

You must however, show that your employer at the time of the exposure could have foreseen that you might suffer from NIHL or a similar condition having regard to the noise levels in the work place.

Finally your employer’s negligence in protecting you from the noise has to be established. Most employers abide by the 2006 Regulations and are more aware of what they are obliged to do in order to protect you from the noisy environment which you work, which includes providing you with adequate hearing protection. This can make things a little difficult in situations in establishing that the employer has been negligent.

Please note however that this is only a general overview as to how a hearing loss claim progresses, every case is individual based upon the circumstances, the periods of employment and the individual.

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