Did you work in the shipyard, mills or other heavy industry or engineering from the 1950’s onwards or serve in the police, prison service or armed services (including TA or UDR)?
If so, then read on.
It has been estimated that up to 5% of adults may suffer from hearing difficulties due to Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
This type of hearing loss (often called ‘industrial deafness’) is caused whenever someone is exposed to loud or sustained noise.
This exposure may arise in some social situations such as rock concerts or even playing music loudly for prolonged periods. The most common cause, however, is due to a worker’s exposure during his or her employment.
Northern Ireland, and particularly Belfast, has a long history of employment in heavy industries such as shipyards, aircraft manufacture and ironworks.
Workers over the years will have been exposed to excessive noise from machinery in machine shops, hammers in foundries, pneumatic equipment such as caulking machines and grinders in ship repairs.
Often the people now suffering the hearing loss did not even use the equipment which caused the noise, but they had to work in an environment where others used it around them. This exposure caused damage to their hearing.
It is possible for the effects of excessive noise to be limited by using earplugs and ear defenders. These are commonly used now but for many thousands who worked in heavy industry from the 1930’s up until recently as the late 1980’s and 1990’s no such protection was provided by employers or if it was available it was difficult to access or in short supply.
The effects of exposure to excessive noise are often slow to show themselves. While many people may have been aware of a sensation of a “ringing” in their ears after a day’s work, this would often disappear.
However, the continued exposure for prolonged periods caused increasing damage to the hearing. People would not notice the effects until later in life.
They find it difficult to understand what people say, especially in crowded rooms, they need to turn the TV and radio sound higher (other people will tell you this); they have to ask people to repeat things, and they cannot hear some high pitched sounds such as a telephone ringing in another room.
There is sometimes tinnitus (the “ringing in the ears”) which can cause upset and difficulty sleeping. It is an often embarrassing condition and many people simply attribute the hearing loss to “getting old”.
It was, however, their employment which caused the damage.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is, unfortunately, both permanent and incurable. Some people benefit from the provision of a digital hearing aid but for others there is little or nothing can be done.
The law recognises that if someone has been injured because an employer has, although aware of the risk to employees, failed to take steps to remove or reduce that risk that employee should be entitled to compensation for the injury he or she has suffered.
The amount of compensation depends on the severity of the injury and in the case of NIHL the degree of hearing loss suffered.
Many people believe that if they were exposed to excessive noise maybe 30 or 40 years ago, they could not bring a claim now. That is wrong.
While it is impossible to guarantee the success of any claim the fact that many years have elapsed does not automatically disqualify you.
Fergus McConnell or Mark Hamill at McConnell Kelly, 217 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, BT4 3JD. Tel: 028 9065 5511 Email: Fergus@mcconnellkelly.com
Andrew Smyth at McConnell Kelly, 45 Main Street, Bangor, BT20 5AF. Tel: 028 9147 9900 Fax: 028 9147 9222. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org