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Industrial deafness, also known as occupation deafness or noise-induced deafness affects 200,000 people in the UK and around 1.1 million are susceptible to it. The terms refer to people who have experienced some kind of deafness as a direct result of the noise levels within their working environment.
Sometimes referred to as acoustic shock or acoustic trauma, acoustic deafness is caused by a loud and/or sudden noise like a gunshot being fired or very loud feedback from a microphone or headset. Permanent effects like a perforated eardrum can result but it is possible to protect against this with ear defenders, often worn by workmen using industrial equipment.
Sufferers experience dull or muffled hearing having been exposed to sound and noise levels above 80 decibels for several hours; later suffering from impaired hearing for up to 15 hours. If you think you have been affected then it is advisable to find sanctuary in a quiet area until your symptoms subside. Continuous contact with such noise levels can lead to more permanent damage.
This is irreparable hearing damage sustained over usually a long period of time being exposed to loud noises and sounds in the workplace. Hair cells within the ear weaken meaning the ear is less able to pick up on certain frequencies and deciphering human voices is often one of the first signs that permanent hearing loss is taking place.
Tinnitus is characterised by a constant hissing, buzzing or whistling in one or both ears often initially mistaken for background traffic noises or electrical equipment. People can experience this for significant periods of time and others for just a short time. Those working in environments such as engineering, factories, construction or road repair are more at risk of tinnitus. Effects of this condition can mean difficulty in sleeping, concentrating and problems detecting particular sounds.
There are some things you can do in order to protect yourself from suffering industrial deafness, these are:
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations Act, 2005 has been brought in to protect employees who work in particularly noisy environments, for example, on a construction site. It also aims to help employers understand exactly what they need to do to protect their staff. It stipulates that if noises of over 80 decibels are reached then there is an onus on the employer to bring in preventative measures, like ear defenders.
It can be difficult to pinpoint when hearing loss has actually occurred, many people suffer from age-related hearing loss regardless of any noisy working environment. Hearing damage can begin subtly and build up over time, again not making it easy to identify when it began. In order to make a successful personal injury claim, you will have to show that you have suffered a loss of hearing within the last 3 years.
It is becoming more popular for employers to request that staff have regular hearing tests so they can ascertain whether or not there is any hearing loss and if so, during what period this was sustained. Often, through fear of being ostracised employees will not follow –up any findings of hearing deterioration during these tests.
If you have suffered from hearing loss or damage as a result of your working environment then you may be able to claim compensation. In order to be successful, you will have to clearly demonstrate your employer’s negligence, for example, not providing correct ear protection and your hearing damage will need to be verified by a medical expert.
However, if you’ve suffered from another kind of industrial disease or occupational illness you may also be entitled to claim. Our accident and injury at work solicitors are here to help. Get in touch for an informal conversation about your circumstances.