Being unaware that a loud noise in the workplace can cause permanent hearing damage may not exclude claiming compensation based on the date of first knowing of the hearing loss and its cause.
Exposure to excessive levels of noise , even over a short period of time, will damage the inner ear causing noise induced hearing loss, sound distortion and ringing in the ears. In the long term, background noise can become more disruptive. The damage is progressive and, in some cases, can develop into total industrial deafness.
Deterioration to hearing can take years, and in the meanwhile, the gradual reduction may go undetected whilst still working in an excessive noise environment. However, as a 2009 court ruling in the US demonstrates, the claim could proceed, even though a considerable period of time had elapsed before filing the claim.
The defendants argued that the workers’ hearing loss claims were prescribed—or time barred— explaining that noise-induced hearing loss is a slow and insidious injury, making it very difficult for those who develop it to recognize the symptoms until they are very advanced. Essentially, because the occupational noise exposure began so long ago the time period to legally pursue a claim had passed.
However, the court denied the defendants’ exception, adjusting the start of the claim period to commence from the time when the plaintiffs knew they suffered hearing damage and discovered its cause.
In further support of the claim, it was mentioned that the problem had also been compounded by the company’s poor health & safety approach, with their own executive admitting the deficiency. Hearing tests had not being carried out either at all or inconsistently and the results not adequately explained to the workforce.
Time delay factors when pursuing compensation do always need to be assessed in individual circumstances and hearing loss advice always sought as claim expiry forecasts are not a foregone conclusion.