Is Deafness In The Workplace The New Whiplash?

AXA Insurance had more claims for deafness than any other type of workplace injury or illness in 2012, at a cost of £26 million. But it is possible that the increase in noise-induced hearing loss claims are being fuelled by claims management companies and compensation lawyers and not necessarily based on a genuine increase in hearing problems.

Anyone working with noisy equipment, particularly those in the construction, manufacturing or music industries, can be at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. And once hearing has been damaged it won’t come back.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 17,000 people in the UK suffer deafness, ringing in the ears or other conditions caused by excessive noise at work. The good news is that new cases of noise-induced deafness qualifying for Industrial Injuries Scheme disablement benefit have fallen over the last ten years, says the HSE.

At the same time, claims against insurance policies have been rocketing. AXA Business Insurance saw a year-on-year rise of 75% in the number of deafness claims in 2012 – a rise of 162% between 2009 and 2012.While it believes that many of the claims are genuine, AXA has also seen evidence of a growing number of fraudulent claims. It believes the trend in these claims has many similarities to the massive rise in personal injury claims among drivers of the last few years and that increase is being fuelled by compensation lawyers and claims management companies targeting potential claimants.

In fact, a quick search online of noise-induced hearing loss brings up a list of adverts for compensation lawyers ahead of any useful advice on how to prevent hearing loss at work.

David Williams, AXA Insurance’s managing director of underwriting says: “Lots of claims inevitably lead to higher premiums in order to cover the cost of payouts. As British businesses struggle through a prolonged period of recession the last thing they needed is the added expense that this will bring.”

Williams is urging employers to be really thorough in ensuring employees are provided with proper protection. “By doing this they can help us nip this growing problem in the bud before it starts impacting on their bottom line.”

Employer responsibilities

Current Control of Noise regulations require all employers to provide protection in any working environment where the decibel level exceeds 85. Other employer requirements include:

  • Assess the risks to your employees from noise at work and take action to reduce exposure
  • Provide employees with hearing protection if you cannot reduce the noise exposure by using other methods
  • Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded
  • Provide your employees with information, instruction and training
  • Carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health

Even if you are just visiting noisy premises to see clients you will need to observe the health and safety rules and perhaps pop some ear plugs in your pocket before you leave home.

 Further information

 HSE guidance on workplace noise

HSE noise risk toolbox

Tips on preventing hearing loss