Hearing loss and compensation claims in NI

13th February, 2023

Hearing loss and compensation claims in Northern Ireland

Noise induced hearing loss related to work is a major cause of deafness, hearing impairment and tinnitus in Great Britain. According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive, there were an estimated 11,000 workers with work-related hearing problems between 2019/20-2021/2022. Although occupational deafness is diminishing year on year, there were still 10 cases of deafness in 2021 (from approximately 200 cases in 2010). There is a distinct gender bias in these figures with females only making up 5 of the 810 cases between 2012 and 2021. This is likely related to the smaller number of women in workplaces that could lead to hearing related problems. Work related noise induced hearing loss remains a serious problem and we have set out below the law relating to hearing loss and compensation claims for compensation in NI.

What is noise induced hearing loss?

We hear sound when vibrations travelling through the air reach our ears. These vibrations are picked up by tiny hairs in our inner ears and converted to sound in the brain. Noise induced hearing loss occurs when there is permanent damage to tiny hair cells in our ears by excessive noise.  Unfortunately, these hair cells are not replaceable once damaged and cannot regrow. This means hearing loss, the extent of which depends on how much damage has been caused to these hair cells, is permanent.

When does noise induced hearing loss take place?

In work related hearing loss cases, this is normally exposure to noise in excess of the recommended levels. This often takes place over a lengthy period of time. However, hearing loss can be caused by a single excessively noisy event such as an explosion.

Jobs with the highest risk of hearing loss in Northern Ireland include:

  • Mining and oil and gas extraction
  • Agriculture
  • Construction and carpentry
  • Military

What are the signs of noise induced hearing loss?

  • Higher pitched sounds are harder to hear than lower pitched sounds
  • People sound as if they are mumbling more than they used to
  • It is harder to hear speech especially words with “s”, “t”, “sh” and “th” sounds in them
  • You have pain in your ears after loud noise exposure
  • You have tinnitus – a ringing, whooshing, roaring or buzzing sound in your ears
  • Friends comment that you talk loudly or appear to shout (even though you are unaware of this)

How do you know if the sound you hear is excessive?

Scientists who are experts in hearing (audiologists) measure sound in decibels. In general any prolonged exposure to sound should not exceed sound above a recommended level of 85 decibels, depending how long, how often and how close one is to such exposure.

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf have a free online hearing loss test.

Can my hearing loss be treated?

Unfortunately, hearing loss and tinnitus once it occurs is permanent. However there are treatments and devices that may assist and the earlier one is removed from the source of the hearing loss and the earlier one seeks medical assistance, the better.

What are my employer’s legal responsibilities?

All employers have a duty of care to their employees to ensure that they have a safe working environment. If employees are exposed to potentially excessive noise at work, then the employer must ensure that they take whatever steps are necessary to remove them from any danger of hearing loss (for example by supplying personal protective equipment such as ear protection) or by removing employees altogether from exposure to excessive noise when the dangers are too great. Employers are expected to carry out risk assessments to determine how great the dangers of excessive noise exposure are and what steps can be taken to lessen or prevent same.

If employers fail to recognise the risks employees face due to excessive work related noise or fail to take steps to prevent employees being harmed from such exposure, then employees will have a claim for hearing loss compensation against such employers in Northern Ireland.

What does a claim for compensation include?

This will depend on the severity of your hearing loss or tinnitus and your financial loss arising from it. It will include:

  • Compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the hearing loss, tinnitus or disease, including any psychological loss such as depression arising it. The amount depends on how serious your disease process is and its’ impact on you
  • All your medical expenses, now and into the future
  • Any loss of earnings, now and into the future
  • Any other financial loss
  • The costs of any adaptions to your home or car because of your injuries
  • Your rehabilitation costs
  • Any care costs that have been or will be incurred because of your injuries

How much time do I have to make a hearing loss compensation claim in NI?

Normally you have three years from the date of your injury to bring a claim. However, in cases involving noise induced hearing loss this can be difficult to determine as hearing loss often takes place over an extended period of time and is not apparent until some years after the initial exposure began. In such circumstances , the limitation period begins three years from the date you knew or a reasonable person ought to have known that your hearing loss was linked to your employment.  Because hearing loss tends to occur over time, the date of knowledge in noise induced hearing loss cases often tends to be the date one is diagnosed with the disease. Limitation periods can be complicated and it is best to seek expert legal advice immediately if you feel that your hearing has been adversely affected by your work. Do not delay.

Special Time limits for children or those without mental capacity

  • If your child suffers from noise induced hearing loss, a claim can be made any time before the child reaches the age of 18. Once your child reaches the age of 18, they have a further three years to make a claim themselves until they reach the age of 21 (and the same rules apply as in the preceding paragraph about the date one became aware of the hearing loss).
  • If the person who sustains the injury does not have mental capacity then there are no time limits.

Why choose Kearney Law?

We, at the Kearney Law Group are ready to assist you and have the knowledge and expertise you need to make a successful claim for compensation. We have an expert team ready to deal with your hearing loss and compensation claim in NI. We will advise you on the options available to you swiftly and professionally and ensure you recover proper compensation for your loss.

We only do personal injury law and are experts at it.

For further assistance please ring us at 02890 912 938 or email us on [email protected] or fill in our contact form

The content of this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice. No solicitor/client relationship or duty of care or liability of any nature shall exist or arise between the Kearney Law Group and you and we refer you to our disclaimer on our website.

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