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Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) and Tinnitus

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What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Noise-induced hearing loss is a hearing impairment resulting from exposure to loud sound. Although NIHL can be brought on by recreational damage such as noisy hobbies, the largest amount of noise exposure damage is through occupational exposure. Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases.

NIHL and Tinnitus


What are the Symptoms of NIHL?

The ear is more vulnerable to injury from noise in the range of 4khz to 6 kHz. Prolonged exposure to noise in the vulnerable frequencies as a noise intensity of 90Db or more is liable to result in hearing loss.

The loss from noise-induced hearing loss is permanent. Exposure to prolonged dangerous noise levels can also cause tinnitus problems which manifests itself by hearing a ringing or a buzzing within the ear. These problems will also be permanent.

You may find that you cannot hear to the same level as your peers. Out in social events, you may find that you miss key parts of conversations and you are unable to follow discussions when in groups.

What causes Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Generally, noise-induced hearing loss is caused by exposure to levels of at least 90Db over a weighted 8 hour working day ( Lepd) for at least 10 years. If you are exposed to this level of noise it can cause irreversible damage to your ears.

To give an idea of noise levels for certain tasks or activities – here is a table showing typical scenarios, machinery or situations and the sound levels generated:

What Can I Claim For?

You will be able to claim for what is known as ‘general damages’ and ‘special damages’.

General Damages

General damages are awards that are made for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity of life. Loss of amenity means the inability to complete activities, either temporarily or permanently. This is an award that is designed to compensate you for the actual injuries suffered, and the effect those have had on your quality of life.

In regards to claims for noise-induced hearing loss, the value of this award will solely depend upon the levels of your hearing loss and tinnitus symptoms. In regards to the valuation of this award, the court will be guided by the Judicial Guidelines.

As a rough guide and on consideration of the JSB Guidelines for general damages, you could expect to recover the following amounts:

  • Severe Tinnitus and NIHL – £26,040–£39,940
  • Moderate Tinnitus and NIHL – £13,080–£26,040
  • Mild Tinnitus with some NIHL – £11,040–£13,080
  • Slight or occasional Tinnitus with slight NIHL – £6,450–£11,040
  • Slight NIHL without Tinnitus or slight tinnitus without NIHL – up to £6,140

From this table, you will see that the value of the claim can drastically change depending on the grading of tinnitus an expert will make.

Special Damages

This is the head of damage to compensate for any financial losses as a result of the industrial disease. This could be any loss of earnings, any medication you have had to pay or for any cost of care. In claims for noise-induced hearing loss, the major special damage will generally be for the cost of hearing aids.

It is not unusual for a medical expert to conclude that as a result of noise exposure, hearing aids are required ten, fifteen and sometimes even twenty years earlier than otherwise needed.

The lifespan of a hearing aid is generally five years and in these examples, you would be able to seek an award for the extra hearing aids you will need as a direct result of requiring them earlier than you would have otherwise needed.

How is NIHL diagnosed?

Initially, you will have to undertake a hearing test or an ‘audiogram’. This test entails wearing a headset and listening for beeps at different frequencies. The result will be a graph showing your hearing loss levels at different levels. Here is an example of how the results may look:
The results of the audiogram will then be considered by an ENT (ear, nose and throat) consultant as to whether the results are indicative of noise-induced hearing loss.

Generally, the ENT consultant will look at the guidelines of Coles, Lutman and Buffin (2000). These are the industry standards for diagnosing noise-induced hearing loss. There are a number of different factors that will be considered but generally if the audiogram show what is known as an audiometric notch (which is like a backward tick) or an audiometric bulge then it is a good sign that the loss could be due to noise exposure.

If the audiogram does show signs of hearing loss then to confirm the diagnosis a further report from an acoustic engineer will be required to properly identify the level of loss exposed to. As these claims tend to relate to exposure from many years and even decades earlier the report of an acoustic engineer will be required to confirm the noise levels.

The acoustic engineer will then assess of evidence provided as to the type of exposure what the likely daily noise levels of exposure were and whether they, therefore, were high enough to potentially cause NIHL, and also whether they were high enough for negligence to attach.

What is the duty of my Employer to protect my hearing?

It was with the publication of Noise and the Worker in 1963 that employers were deemed to have widespread knowledge of the damage noise could cause. Generally, this means that exposure that was caused before 1963 will not be seen as a foreseeable risk, and no negligence will attach. It was found in the case of Thompson –v– Smiths Ship-repairers that from 1963 it was known that protection could be effective and it was foreseeable that ears could be damaged if unprotected.

Following the 1963 publication, there has been a number of statutory duties to tighten the duties the employer owes their employees. These are as follows:

1989 Noise at Work Regulations

  • These regulations came into force on 1st January 1990. There are a number of exceptions that they do not apply to, namely seagoing ships, hovercraft or aircraft, but otherwise are of general application. They are not limited to work in factories. They are also not retrospective and only relate to noise exposure from 1990 onwards.
  • The regulations have two action levels. The first action level is a personal noise exposure of 85 Dba and the second action level is a daily noise exposure level of 90 Dba.
  • When an employer is likely to be exposed to the first action level or above, the employer must ensure that a competent person carries out a noise assessment, and further keeps an adequate record of the assessment.
  • Regulation 8 makes provision for ear protection. Where the employee is likely to be exposed to the first action level but not to the second action level, the obligation on the employer is, so far as practicable, to provide the employee at his request with suitable and efficient personal ear protectors.
  • Where the Employee is likely to be exposed to the second action level or above, the employer’s duty is to provide suitable personal ear protectors which, when properly working, can reasonably be expected to keep the risk of damage to the employes hearing to below that arising from exposure to the second action level.
  • The Regulations require the demarcation or ear protection zones with prescribed signs (examples pictured below).
  • The employer must provide information, instruction and training on the risk of damage, what steps can be taken to minimise the risk and the steps required to obtain personal ear protection.



Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

  • Came into force in April 2006.
  • The Music and Entertainment industries where a later date of 6th April 2008 applied.
  • They do not apply to sea-going ships, hovercraft or aircraft, but otherwise are of general application to workplaces.
  • The regulations create a lower action level to the 1989 regs.
  • The First exposure level in the 2005 regs. is a daily exposure level of 85 Lepd. The upper exposure level is a value of 85 Lepd.
  • The exposure limit values are a daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 87 Dba.
  • Where an employee is likely to be exposed to noise at or above the lower action level, the employer must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk from that noise.
  • The employer must record the significant findings of the risk assessment, and the measures which it has taken and which it intends to take to meet the requirements of the Regulations.
  • Regulation 7 makes provision for ear protection to be made available if there is exposure at or above the lower exposure action level. The means of reducing noise and the hearing protection must be maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair. There are duties imposed on the employee to make use of the hearing protection provided.

How Do I make a Claim?

If you have read the above and feel that you may be suffering from any of the symptoms whilst exposed to noise, call us to speak to our dedicated Industrial Disease team, who can give you free advice on whether you are eligible to make a claim.

In order to run the majority of personal injury claims, you have to have started the claim within three years of the injury. However, with Industrial Disease claims it may be that the injury started over a period of time and was only diagnosed within the last three years. We will be able to clarify this for you.

We are of the belief that it is better to get that peace of mind by checking if you have a claim, rather than let the time run out and never knowing. For a noise-induced hearing loss claim, the three-year limitation will normally start ticking from then the court finds that you linked or when you should have linked the problem.

We would strongly recommend that legal advice is taken on this issue as for each case limitation dates will fall on their own merits.

I have just been diagnosed with hearing loss but stopped working at the Company year ago? Can I still Claim.

If you have only become aware of your hearing problems recently and have only just noticed issues then your action should be in time for limitation purposes. This is solely evidence-based for each action, so it is strongly recommended that you speak with a solicitor to take further advice.

Will I lose my job if I make a claim against my employer?

If you are still working for the Defendants, they cannot dismiss you for making or proposing to make a claim. If your employer attempts to do so, you are likely able to make a successful unfair dismissal claim. In our experience, the high majority of insurers understand their duties owed to you and the right you have to pursue a claim if this duty has been breached.

In the high majority of matters, the claim will normally be transferred from the Defendants direct to their insurers and it will be the insurers who will deal with the defending of the action.

How long will my case take?

The length of time for a case can vary, and can strongly depend on how Defendants and their insurers want to defend the action. It may take a considerable time to identify insurers for the Defendants if they are no longer trading, and the obtaining of expert evidence from an ENT consultant and an acoustic engineer can take a considerable amount of time.

We will also need to obtain the full list of your past employers from the HMRC – this also can take some time to obtain. Casea can take anywhere from twelve months up to three or four years to reach a conclusion.

Why use Oakwood Solicitors to run my Industrial Deafness claim?

We have a very experienced and dedicated team of people in the Industrial Disease department. They are able to identify whether a claim is likely to be viable at an early stage and give advice. We work with an extensive network of audiologists, ENT consultants and Acoustic Engineers. They have dealt with a number of claims in all areas of Industrial Disease and achieved some excellent results.

How would my case be funded?

Our cases are brought on a no-win, no-fee basis. If we accept your claim, as long as terms of the agreement are complied with by yourself – namely that you do not mislead and you co-operate, there will be no charge to you in the event of the case fails. If the case succeeds, there will be a deduction to be made from the damages.

Are there any charities that could help me?

British Tinnitus Association
Action against Hearing Loss


If you believe your hearing may have been affected by your working history, get in touch today for a free initial consultation. Choose one of the methods on the right-hand side of this page, or call us on 0113 200 9787 to find out how we can help you.

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