Posted on: 18 November 2019

How to deal with work-based hearing loss claims

Construction sites, manufacturing plants and warehouses are all very loud places to work in, with many workers in these environments for most of the day. Machinery, plant and engines all produce levels of noise that can be damaging to unprotected ears if exposed for too long, which can eventually lead to hearing impairment or loss. This is also known as industrial deafness.

It was estimated that between 2013 and 2014, there were 80,000 cases of industrial deafness claims filed, leading some insurers to refer to the injury as “the new whiplash”. Like whiplash, claims for hearing loss were often taken advantage of by claims management companies, and unfortunately, 90% of industrial deafness claims were rejected, according to the Financial Times. If your team works around loud equipment, you are responsible as a business owner, to ensure the safety of the staff who are on-site, including their hearing. By following this guidance, you can protect both your team and your business.

What is industrial deafness

As we get older, our hearing naturally deteriorates, even for people who have avoided noisy environments, so for those who are exposed to loud noises regularly, hearing issues may arise sooner than those who avoid excessively loud noises.

Hearing damage occurs when someone is exposed to 85 decibels of sound or above for an extended period, with typical symptoms being tinnitus or permanent hearing loss. It is worth pointing out that many tools, equipment or machinery used in the construction, manufacturing or warehousing industries produce over 85 decibels.

Hearing loss is a gradual process, which makes it difficult to assess whether or not hearing damage is caused by exposure to loud noises or just general hearing deterioration. However, if you have worked in industrial areas with loud noise exposure, here are some common symptoms that could indicate that you have experienced work-related hearing deterioration:

  1. Missing common signal sounds, such as a phone ringing or the doorbell.
  2. Not being able to follow conversations or not hearing words or even whole sentences.
  3. Finding it difficult to hear the TV or radio, and needing to turn it up.
  4. Showing symptoms of tinnitus, which could include a persistent ringing, buzzing or hissing in one or both ears.

There are an estimated 250,000 workers in the UK that suffer from some degree of industrial deafness, but there are also a further 1,000,000 potentially at risk.

Many claimants of industrial deafness generally will not receive compensation, despite having symptoms, because there is usually unsubstantial evidence that deafness is caused by the workplace.

Industrial Health and Safety Noise Laws

If you are the owner or manager of a company that works with loud equipment, tools or machinery, you should be aware of two pieces of regulation that will protect both your team and your business:

The Noise at Work Act 1963

This piece of legislation requires a risk assessment to be carried out which identifies the number of risks and the level of the danger posed to your team regularly. If you find a large number of risks, you may need to find preventative measures to ensure the wellbeing of those working around loud equipment.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (the ‘Noise Regulations’)

To comply with this regulation, you will need to ensure that:

  • Adequate and well maintained Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided to members of your team where appropriate.
  • Your team receive regular training on protecting their hearing when working around tools, equipment or machinery that produces loud noises.
  • Employees are provided with a wellness assessment regularly so that you can monitor hearing deterioration.
  • You monitor the levels of noise to keep them within the legal limits. These are below 87 decibels for personal noise exposure and 140 decibels for peak sound pressure.

If you fail to comply with these regulations, you could be leaving your business open to claims for work-related deafness.

What are the risks of Industrial Deafness

In a construction, manufacturing or warehouse working environment, loud noises are often unavoidable, but the risks posed to your team can be avoided. If you don’t conduct risk assessments for noise, your business may face the following risks:

Risks to your staff

  • Permanent or debilitating hearing loss
  • Tinnitus

Risks to your business

  • Fines and liability costs
  • Reputational damage

This is by no means a complete list, but just an idea of some of the risks that your business may face.

Guarding Against Industrial Deafness Risks

Most industrial deafness claims are not filed by current employees, but rather by people who were employed by a company decades earlier as their hearing has deteriorated over time. You should, therefore, take these steps to protect your business from claims that may arise in the future:

  • Keep records and results of any wellness programmes at your business so that you have evidence in the future.
  • Have a comprehensive record of any noise exposure levels that have been recorded. This should include the machinery that you have recorded and their level of decibels.
  • Carry out a regular inspection that details risks that have been identified at your business and how you have mitigated these risks for your team. You should also detail the safety equipment that you have used or provided for your team.
  • Keep records of any wellness assessments that you carry out with your team. If you notice a decline in quality of hearing, make adjustments for the team member, record these adjustments and monitor them over time.

How loud is your equipment?

To give you an idea of how loud your working environment is, we have taken a look at some noise comparisons.

Share the How loud is your equipment infographic

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<p><a href="https://www.premierline.co.uk/knowledge-centre/combatting-hearing-loss-claims.html"><img src="https://www.premierline.co.uk/content/dam/premierline/knowledge-centre/combatting-hearing-loss-claims_infographic.png" alt="Combatting hearing loss claims in the industrial sector infographic by Premierline"></a><br /><br/><a href="https://www.premierline.co.uk/knowledge-centre/combatting-hearing-loss-claims.html">Combatting hearing loss claims in the industrial sector</a> by <a href="https://www.premierline.co.uk">Premierline</a></p>

Forklift truck

A forklift truck will usually produce a noise of around 90dB. This is the same noise produced by a motorbike 7 metres away

Hand drill

Surprisingly, a hand drill can produce between 95 to 100dB, the same as a jet taking off 305 metres away

Steel mill noise

The general background noise produced in a steel mill is around 110dB, which is roughly the same as a music concert.

Jackhammer

A jackhammer can produce up to 130dB, which is bordering on the noise level pain threshold of 140dB. This is the same amount of noise as standing next to a jet taking off 15 metres away from you.

Business insurance with Premierline

At Premierline, we are passionate about helping you protect the business that you have built. This is why we offer a bespoke service to assess your business’ needs to make sure that you are covered should the worst happen.

Our business advisors will work with some of the UK’s most well-known insurance providers to find a quote that provides the cover that your business needs. Get in touch to speak with one of our trained insurance experts to discuss your commercial and industrial insurance requirements.

Source: Zywave Inc – Manufacturing Risk – Combating industrial deafness claims

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