Lawyer Says “More Must Be Done” To Protect Workers From Hearing Damage

Industrial illness experts supporting Tinnitus Awareness Week


Industrial Illness experts are demanding employers do more to protect their employees from suffering hearing damage at work, saying some workers are not given even the most basic protective equipment.

As National Tinnitus Awareness Week, which runs from 4-11 February 2011, is launched, experts have spoken out about the ‘unacceptable’ number of people who suffer hearing damage as a result of their work. They are calling for employers to provide better protective equipment to those working with loud or high-pitched equipment.

Among the experts is Isobel Lovett, an associate solicitor and industrial illness specialist at Irwin Mitchell – which is representing around 130 clients who suffered hearing damage after working at British Telecom.

The clients, which include both current and former BT employees, believe their hearing was damaged by ‘green set’ and ‘yellow set’ oscillators – devices which transmit a constant high pitched sound through a headset, allowing the user to listen for changes in tone to track faults in the cables.

BT has already admitted that the ‘green set’ and ‘yellow set’ oscillators have caused hearing loss and tinnitus to a large number of users, and has now replaced both oscillators with an adapted model. But Lovett says other businesses must follow suit and take action to protect their workers.

Isobel Lovett said: “Around 200,000 people in the UK suffer from noise-induced hearing problems, including tinnitus, partial deafness and a complete loss of hearing. 

“Every day at Irwin Mitchell we see work related hearing damage severely affecting people’s lives and businesses must do more to protect workers. In so many cases people would not have suffered hearing damage if they had been given relatively inexpensive protection and equipment.

“Workers have the right to expect to go to work and carry out their duties without any adverse effects on their health, and employers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees. Time and time again we see the same problems arising from a lack of basic health and safety protection; it is unacceptable and it has to stop.”

Tinnitus is a condition which leaves victims hearing noises in their ears or head when there is no external noise present. It is often described as a constant background noise such as ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing or humming.

Victims often say it makes them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable as they can struggle to hear conversations and keep having to ask people to repeat themselves. It can also affect people’s concentration and their ability to sleep properly.

Tony Rupa, Head of Legal Services at the Communication Workers Union, says hearing damage remains a concern in the communications sector.

He said: “People traditionally associate hearing damage with heavy manufacturing and music industries, but there are many people who work in the communications sector who are exposed to loud, continuous and high pitched noises.

“The Communication Workers’ Union is assisting over 1,500 members with claims arising from the use of oscillators/amplifiers in their work, many of which are suffering with tinnitus.

“This noise can cause lasting damage and it’s essential that we take steps to cut out the noise at source. If this can’t be done then workers need to be given equipment to protect their ears.”

If you or a loved one has suffered from hearing damage such as acoustic shock, tinnitus, and noise-induced hearing loss caused by conditions at work our solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Industrial Disease Claims page for more information.