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Military noise-induced hearing loss: A new diagnostic method

Every year, thousands of military service personnel are injured by being exposed to excessive levels of noise. This can be wide ranging in their roles. 

I have and continue to act for military clients who have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and tinnitus as a result of exposures to excessive noise.

NIHL affects many people who’ve worked in a noisy environment without the right hearing protection or training from their employer. Serving in the Armed Forces can often mean working in a noisy environment, which may lead to permanent noise damage. 

Every year many claims for compensation are brought by current or former service personnel as a result of injury. A significant number of these claims arise from hearing loss from weapons fire. I help military clients in NIHL claims from a wide range of trades, where they may have been exposed to damaging levels of noise.

I’ve represented those who’ve been exposed to excessive noise while employed by the Ministry of Defence in a wide range of trades and scenarios. These range from special force soldiers serving on the front line, to Royal Navy personnel serving on board ships.

Military noise-induced hearing loss (M-NIHL) is very different to occupational noise exposure in a factory which has typically been the more common kind of occupational noise exposure. To date, though, the way the courts assess disability or the extent of exposure and compensation for a solider is based on a methodology used for exposure in the factory setting.

Developments in Diagnosis of M-NIHL

Recently a new method of assessing the extent of noise exposure or disability in the military environment has been put forward for assessing M-NIHL.

M-NIHL claims have been the subject of recent study by scientific experts, most prominently Professor Brian Moore FMedSci, FRS, emeritus professor of auditory perception at Cambridge University. Prof Moore’s research casts doubt on the application of what were considered “normal” methods for identifying and quantifying hearing loss in M-NIHL claimants. Between 2020 and 2022, Prof Moore has published six papers on NIHL, mainly focussing on M-NIHL.

Prof Moore has recently published a new set of guidelines for specifically diagnosing and quantifying M-NIHL more accurately than using the accepted method used for industrial noise exposure. His work shows that exposure to the extremely loud sounds experienced in military service will in some circumstances accelerate the progression of hearing loss in later life, beyond what would be expected from age alone. Prof Moore’s research has wide-ranging implications for M-NIHL claims, and for NIHL litigation more generally.

In summary Professor Moore’s method has resulted in more positive diagnoses than the current method of diagnosis used for occupational noise claims which has failed to diagnose NIHL in cases when it was in fact present in the military context.

If the courts accept this method of assessing the level of disability or extent of NIHL in the military context, then it’s likely to lead to more successful results for our clients which to date may well have been missed.

M-NIHL cases are an entirely different category of claim. Time will tell whether M-NIHL cases enjoy better prospects than occupational cases. But for those cases which succeed, claimants are considerably younger, which brings with it the prospect of considerably higher compensation.

The new scientific developments discussed here have the potential to change this field and the assessment of compensation in military noise-induced hearing loss claims for the better.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people who've been injured while serving in the Armed Forces at our dedicated military injuries claims section.