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Industrial Deafness: we are all susceptible

We live in a noisy environment. We have done, certainly for those who live in towns or cities, for the last few centuries. It was really prior to the Industrial Revolution that the places where we spend most of our time were not as noisy as they are now.The majority of us are exposed to very reasonable noise levels. Standing next to a car or motorcycle that is revving its engine for example is certainly not noisy. The amount of noise actually produced is well within the capabilities that our ears can stand.The advent however of the Industrial Revolution and production of mass factories and the requirement therefore for energy, generally by way of electricity which in turn called upon our natural resources such as coal to produce this electricity in huge coal fired power stations, meant that large machinery had to be produced which in turn produced noise.One can only imagine the levels of noise that people had to put up with. Working in a factory producing cloth, no more than inches away from a mechanical loom, must have produced incredible levels of noise.It is not surprising therefore that we remember our grandparents being deaf and certainly it would have been common for those retiring in their 60s and 70s to retire with a profound level of hearing loss.What is however surprising is how long it took for people to realise one of the major contributors and for the requirements on protection to be put in place following the Factories Acts and later more specifically, the 1989 Noise at Work Regulations and thereafter the subsequent 2005 regulations which now stand as the guiding regulations.From a historical perspective therefore it has only been relatively recently that we have put in place regulations to ensure that noise levels are kept within reasonable levels and if it is not possible to do so, to ensure that employees have appropriate hearing protection and to ensure that this is worn at all appropriate times and correct information is given to the employees to do so.The simple reason for this may well be that it takes some time for hearing loss to develop.It is quite unusual for a situation such as acoustic shock to occur where a single or multiple noise exposure occurs over a relatively short period of time and for the person concerned to then appreciate they have suffered from hearing loss. This generally only occurs if an audiogram (that tests the level of any hearing loss) is carried out relatively soon after the exposure. Ideally an audiogram would have to be carried out before the exposure to compare the two and it is then relatively easy to establish that the noise exposure is likely to have been the cause of the hearing loss.Noise induced hearing loss is progressive, not in its harm but in realisation. The actual exposure could have been some years previously and as we all get older, we almost expect a degree of hearing loss to occur as indeed did our grandparents and those before them. It is therefore not until we reach our 50s, 60s and sometimes even our 70s that we begin to become more profoundly deaf, we see our GP who refers us to a consultant who in turn is able to assess whether all of the hearing loss is likely to be due to natural changes or whether there are other causes such as noise exposure that could have contributed towards the overall hearing loss situation.For this reason hearing loss claims can be very interesting and also very challenging cases to proceed with. They invariably require witness evidence to establish when the hearing loss occurred and that it happened in the absence of hearing protection. It is more difficult to establish the degree of noise exposure that is likely to have occurred unless the exposure is firearms or explosive devices which are known to be extremely noisy. Trying to test the noise levels of factories which have long since closed is of course impossible unless noise surveys were carried out at the time.I have dealt previously in a blog on the question of limitation. This applies equally in noise induced hearing loss claims as I have mentioned previously and it is important that this is established as soon as reasonably practicable as the Defendants will invariably look to see whether the injured person had knowledge of their hearing loss some years previously and therefore whether their claim is statue barred.We rely upon our hearing. It is one of our most vital senses. To be profoundly deaf would cause us considerable difficulties and therefore we should do our upmost to ensure that our hearing is protected whenever we come into contact with noisy environments or are exposed to high levels of noise. Equally, it is only right that we require our employers to provide us with appropriate protection in such circumstances. To fail to do so would be simply wrong.Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury in the London office of Russell Jones & Walker. If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, or email enquiries@rjw.co.uk and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.

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