Rise in deafness claims

2 April, 2015
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

Exposure to noise at work can cause irreversible hearing damage. It is one of the most common health problems and can be difficult to detect as the effects build up over time. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) claim that industrial hearing loss remains the occupational disease with the highest number of civil claims accounting for about 75% of all occupational disease claims.

According to the Electric Contractors’ Insurance Company (ECIC), a specialist insurer to the construction industry, the number of deafness claims it managed more than doubled between 2012 and 2013.

How to protect your business

It is important for an employer to implement the guidelines set out by the HSE. Under the HSE guidelines an employer must assess the risk to workers’ health and provide them with information and training if the noise is consistently over 80 decibels. If the noise level exceeds 85 decibels there is a further duty to provide hearing protection and protection zones. There is also an exposure limit value of 87 decibels, taking account of any reduction in exposure provided by hearing protection, above which workers must not be exposed.

Managing Risk

An obvious step is to provide protective equipment that is properly maintained and ensuring it is usable in conjunction with the other protective equipment used by workers. Another is to consider whether noise levels from the machinery employed could be reduced by, for example, introducing new quieter alternatives or carrying out more regular maintenance. A third is appropriate job rotation, to ensure workers are not exposed to noise levels for extended periods of time.

Proactive enforcement

An enforcement program should be in place to include:

  • recording the need to wear hearing protection in your health and safety policy;
  • putting someone in authority in overall charge of issuing protectors;
  • making sure replacements are readily available;
  • carrying out spot-checks to see that that hearing protection is being used properly (if employees are not doing so company disciplinary procedures must be used); and
  • ensuring all managers and supervisors set a good example by wearing hearing protection themselves.

It is important that employers provide thorough training to their employees who are consistently exposed to loud noise especially as an employee may retrospectively claim against previous employees for their contributory fault. The inherent difficulty in determining fault increases the importance of instilling protective measures and accurate record keeping to assist the production of defence(s) to such claims should they be brought.

For further information you should visit the HSE website, which provides excellent guidance on the topic. https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg362.html