In our society, noise is a normal part of everyday life. It is also well known that that noise can cause permanent hearing loss. What is less well known is that there are many environments in which noise is a hazard. These may include use of noisy equipment in the open (such as pneumatic drills or similar machinery) and even so-called ‘social noise’ such as personal stereos or over-loud PA systems. Certain hobbies, such as shooting, can also cause deafness without appropriate ear defences. Loss of hearing due to noise is so common, it has been called the 'hidden epidemic'.
By far the most common cause of noise-induced hearing loss in adults, however, is exposure to noise at work and if you have lost hearing as a result of noise at work, you may be entitled to compensation.
- The characteristics of noise induced hearing loss are:
- The loss is centred on the frequencies most necessary for understanding speech – you can hear what is said, but it is difficult to understand.;
- It is often accompanied by a general hearing loss, so that the quietest sound you can hear is louder than before – for example you may not be able to hear a whisper ; and
- It is often accompanied by a decrease in the loudest sound you can tolerate – so loud noises become painful.
If this sounds like a problem you are having, or you are having trouble with your hearing, an experienced audiologist will be able to identify whether your hearing loss is due to nose – the ‘audiogram’ is quite characteristic.
If the problem has arisen as a result of exposure at work, whether or not you will be entitled to compensation will depend on several factors, such as whether ear protection was offered and whether you wore it, the time you spent at work and whether this was before or January 1990, when the legislation on noise with which employers are required to comply was introduced. If it was incurred as a result of war service, you may be entitled to a war pension as a result.
If you find that your ears ‘ring’ or you suffer temporary loss of hearing after leaving work, listening to music or any other noisy activity, you are probably suffering from exposure to excessive noise.