Open-access content 26th January 2016
Noise-induced hearing loss at workplace affects people across several industries. Teresa Higgins explains how employers can protect workers and avoid costly claims.
28 January 2016 | Teresa Higgins
Barbour, the leading health and safety information service, recently hosted a webinar focusing on everything workers need to know about noise in the workplace.
It gave an overview of noise-induced hearing loss (NHIL) claims in the UK, the current trends, and how these cases are being handled.
There has been a marked focus on NHIL claims in recent years. Although data is limited, there were approximately 5,000 to 8,000 submitted claims a month in 2015.
A better understanding
The UK deafness claims working party, with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the wider insurance industry, has put a significant focus on this area and there are working parties remitted to facilitate a market-wide data collection exercise so that there is a better understanding of the trends insurers face on noise claims.
Data also shows that NHIL claims increased dramatically by 250 per cent between 2010 and 2013 and, at an estimated cost of £400 million for the same period, it is clear that this is a serious issue affecting a number of industries, workplaces and people.
More than one million employees in the UK are exposed to levels of noise that put their hearing at risk and 17 per cent suffer deafness, tinnitus or other ear conditions as a result of exposure to excessive noise. With continuing trend for significant number of claims to be made annually, it is important that companies are fully prepared to deal with any claims that they may incur.
The profile of claimants traditionally comes from heavy industry, manufacturing and construction from exposure during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. This has remained broadly the same, although the most recent update to legislation for Control of Noise at Work Regulation 2005, which came into effect for the entertainment industry in April 2008, means that there could still be claims to come from those working in this industry. The profile of the defendant has changed in recent years as smaller companies have grown, and heavy industry - manufacturing and construction - is no longer dominated by the large industries of the 1960s and 70s.
In the past couple of years claims have started to tail off, but it is not believed that they will significantly reduce on a year-on-year basis. One of the biggest factors that could have an impact in reducing claims would be the government's response to the ABI's request to amendments within the portal made in June 2015. The amendments included:
- 1. Appropriate timetable for low-value noise-induced hearing loss claims;
- 2. Disclosure of evidence of employment (e.g. an IR Schedule);
- 3. Allow for multi-defendant claims;
- 4. Allow for liability to be admitted subject of causation; and
- 5. Fixed costs to apply (if claim drops out of portal); and
- 6. Extend MedCo (the system to facilitate the sourcing of medical reports in soft tissue injury claims) to medical experts on noise-induced hearing loss claims.
A huge difficulty for any company dealing with a claim is the insufficient and often brief details that are presented when it is notified. Companies and insurers need to get full details on whether the person was employed at the time, their job description and the location. This lack of information at initial claim can cause multiple hours of digging and preparation for all concerned, which can add significantly to legal costs.
What can the employer do to help reduce the risk of employees suffering from NIHL in the workplace, and if they do suffer, how can employers insure that they are able to assist in resolving any claims made?
Employers must assess the risk to workers' health and provide them with information and training if they are exposed to lower exposure levels and they must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones at the upper exposure levels.
Employers must also make sure that all employees are trained sufficiently in how to use hearing protection - many do not realise that hearing protection becomes ineffectual if not used correctly.
Documenting is the most crucial thing any employer can do to ensure that they can reduce claims. This includes documenting noise levels, documenting training, documenting hearing protector fit, and documenting audiometry. Documenting is vital for successful defence of NIHL claims.
As NIHL claims rise and the costs increase, the Barbour webinar on noise at work is a valuable resource for those interested in learning about the latest trends and those looking for practical advice on how to ensure that they can reduce the risks of NHIL claims.
Teresa Higgins is a director at Barbour EHS