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Can't Stand the Noise?

In our society, noise is a normal part of everyday life. It is also well known that noise can cause permanent hearing loss. What is less well known is that there are many circumstances in which potentially hazardous noise may be encountered. This may include noisy equipment (such as pneumatic drills or similar machinery) being used in the open and even so-called ‘social noise’, such as personal stereos or overloud PA systems. Hobbies, such as shooting, can cause deafness unless appropriate ear defences are worn.

By far the most common cause of noise-induced hearing loss in adults, however, is exposure to noise at work. If you have suffered a loss of hearing as a result of this, 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 clearly;
  • 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;
  • 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 noise because the ‘audiogram’ is quite characteristic.

If the problem has arisen as a result of exposure to noise at work, whether you will be entitled to compensation or not will depend on several factors, such as whether ear protection was offered, whether you wore it and the time you spent at work. It will also depend on whether this was before or after 1 January 1990, when the Noise at Work Regulations, with which employers are required to comply, were first introduced. If, on the other hand, the loss of hearing was incurred as a result of war service, you may be entitled to a war pension as a result.

It is quite likely that noise-induced hearing loss will become more common with the increased use of high volume sound systems. 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.

The RNID offers a short, free hearing test by telephone which can be accessed on 0845 600 55 55.

"Hearing loss caused by exposure to noise is probably more common than people realise. So far, there is no cure for this form of hearing loss. While prevention is undoubtedly the best strategy, we may be able to help you to obtain compensation if you suffer from deafness owing to exposure to noise at work."