Acoustic Shock Claims *
Acoustic Shock * is recognised as a work-related illness * which can either temporarily or permanently affect your hearing. Acoustic Shock Disorder (ASD) occurs when exposed to a sound that is perceived as traumatic for the ears. These sounds are usually very loud, unexpected and occur close to the ear, for example, a call centre worker exposed to loud noises on a phone or headset. This condition is commonly a work-related accident *.
It is caused by exposure to short, unexpected, high-frequency sound. Symptoms of this condition have been described as numbness, burning sensation in or around the ear. As this condition affects the hears, a range of other conditions can occur, some of which being, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder *. Call centre workers are commonly affected by this condition due to their prolonged use of telephone headsets. Factory workers and those who work around loud equipment and machinery are also at risk of acoustic shock as they may be exposed to sudden and unexpected sounds which can cause hearing damage. It is important that these workers are wearing the correct protective gear in order to reduce the risk of this happening.
The most common sectors of work in which employees experience symptoms of acoustic shock and industrial deafness are:
- Bars and restaurants
- Call Centres
- Office workers
As an acoustic shock injury * is generally divided into three different groups it can be difficult to determine symptoms. In saying this, there are a number of symptoms that are similar throughout all three classifications. Symptoms include;
- Ear Pain
- Pain in the neck and jaw
- Anxiety and Depression
- Pressure in the ear
- Impaired hearing
- Felling of dizziness
- Difficulty sleeping
Acoustic shock is generally divided into three different groups.
Early Onset: This happens just minutes after the event. It is a pain or discomfort in the ear which can cause an impairment and muffled hearing. Common symptoms associated with this group are fatigue, nausea and dizziness.
Medium Onset: This usually develops within the following hours or days of the initial event. This can often lead to tinnitus which is a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears.
Late Onset: This does not develop immediately after the event but a short while later. Common symptoms that have been linked to this are anxiety and depression.
- Sudden high-pitched noises
- Lack of protective equipment
- Breach in health and safety regulations
- An extended period of time using a headset
- Somebody shouting down the phone
Who is liable?
If you have developed noise-induced hearing loss as a result of the negligence of another party you may be entitled to make a claim. In order to do this, you will need to determine who has liability for the injury. As acoustic shock is generally associated with workplace accidents * and it is often an employer who is shown to be responsible for any injuries sustained. This is not always the case and employees can also act negligently which in turn may lead to accident or injury. There are certain activities that both employers and employees to engage in to ensure the health and safety of each other.
As an employer, your number one priority should be the health and safety of your employees. In order to do this, there are certain activities you should carry out to ensure of this. All employers should carry out frequent risk assessments to identify hazards and eliminate any risks. This should lower the chance of workplace injury and accidents. Employers also have a duty of care to their staff to manage activities in a way which prioritises their safety. They should provide training for all employees so that they are capable of doing the job and will know the correct procedure if something does go wrong. It is important that all employees are provided with the correct protective equipment based on the job they will be carrying out. If an employer fails to do any of these things and an accident or injury occurs then they may be found liable and a claim can be made against them
Employees also have a duty of care to both their employer and co-workers. They need to ensure that they are not acting in a negligent manner which may lead to an injury. It is important that employees attend any training provided to them and ensure that they wear the protective equipment. If an employee fails to do this then the chance of an accident occurring becomes higher and they may be found liable for this if it is found that they failed to comply with company regulations.
Noise at Work
According to the HSA ‘Control of Noise at Work’ report, noise-induced hearing loss is the most common of industrial diseases reported in the EU. Employees who are exposed to noise levels above 85 dB are at an increased risk of damaging their hearing resulting in noise-induced hearing loss.
Hearing loss at work is usually gradual due to prolonged exposure to noise levels in the environment they are working in. It is only after years of exposure that some people realise how deaf they have become. In instances where a loud noise is sudden, symptoms are more quickly noticeable.
Noise levels to be aware of
The higher the noise level and the longer you are exposed to it, the more at risk you are of developing a hearing impairment as a result. Here are some common noise levels to be aware of to help you determine the level of noise you have been subject to:
- 30dB – Quiet library
- 60dB – Conversation
- 70dB – Classroom
- 80dB – Tractor
- 90dB – Power Drill
- 100dB – Night Club
The following stats show the percentage of employees in certain sectors that are subject to high noise levels for more than a half hour of their working time:
- Manufacturing and mining – 40% of employees
- Construction – 35%
- Agriculture, transport, communications – 20%
Preventing Acoustic Shock Syndrome *
There are a number of elements that can be put in place to prevent hearing loss in work, some of which the employee should have in place to ensure the health and well-being of their employees:
- Machines should be designed so that they operate more quietly than they do
- Employers should ensure that noise control measures are in place to reduce noise in their working environments and reduce employee’s exposure to noise
- In cases where noise cannot be controlled and the employer must provide employees with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as noise cancelling hearing protection.
- Employees must ensure to us any PPE given to them when carrying out their work
According to the HSA, an employer should carry out risk assessments which should identify:
- The source of the noise
- Employees who are exposed to the noise and at risk
- Necessary action to take to reduce the risk of injury
- Other methods of work that may eliminate the noise exposure
- Protective equipment needed to carry out the job safely
- Any changes to make to the layout and design of the place of work
- Safety training requirements of staff
- Whether any noise cancelling tools need to be installed (sound absorbent coverings, shields etc)
- How work processes need to be organised, i.e. limiting the amount of noise one employee is subjected to
An employer should take note of the following aspects when carrying out an assessment:
- Certain work tasks and the level of noise related to the tasks
- Make an appropriate assessment of noise levels and risk to employees
- Measure the levels of noise the employees are exposed to
- Make assessments at regular intervals
- Ensure that sampling during assessments is representative of daily exposure to employees
- Pay particular attention to:
- Level, type and duration of exposure
- Effects of exposure to employees at risk
- Possible effects of warning noises made by machinery and the possible effects of these on employees
- Availability of alternative tools that make less noise
- Providing protective equipment to protect the employees hearing
- Make any adjustments needed as soon as possible after the assessment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal protective equipment should be used in cases where it is not possible to reduce the exposure of noise on an employee. In such cases, the employer should provide the employee with this equipment. A person may suffer an injury and the employer may be held liable if protective equipment is:
- Not provided (ear muffs, ear plugs)
- Not suitable for the level, type or duration of noise
- Not fitted correctly to a person – an employee should have a choice to ensure that it fits correctly and is comfortable and as a result works as intended
- Not properly stored or maintained
- Training is not provided on the proper use of the protective equipment
What to do if you have developed an Acoustic Shock Injury *
If you have developed an acoustic shock injury there are certain things that you should take note of which may be helpful in the future. This includes;
- The date and time of the event which caused the acoustic shock
- The duration of the exposure to the sudden noise
- A description of the noise
- Details of the protective equipment provided
- Symptoms experienced by the injured person
- Details on whether the incident was recorded
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