Attributing Noise-Induced Deafness to a Particular Source Can Be Tough


People often have numerous jobs during their long working lives and that can make it extremely hard to pin down a particular workplace as the source of noise-induced deafness. That was certainly so in the case of a man who put his disabling hearing loss down to noise exposure during his work as a plumber and heating engineer more than 35 years ago.

The man, aged in his 60s, sought compensation from two defendants for whom he had worked between 1977 and 1988. He alleged that he had been exposed to excessive noise generated by such tools as angle grinders and hammer drills and that there was a culpable failure to provide him with suitable hearing protection.

Given the passage of so many years, however, his was the only evidence available concerning the environment in which he had worked. In denying liability, the defendants criticised his testimony as inconsistent and lacking in detail. One of them contended that it was inherently implausible that he would have used such noisy tools.

It was agreed that the significant deterioration in his hearing could not be attributed to age alone. Although he had worked as a police firearms officer for nine years after moving on from the plumbing trade, he did not allege that he had been exposed to excessive noise levels in that employment.

In dismissing his claim, however, the court found that expert acoustics and medical evidence presented on his behalf did not establish that he was, on the balance of probabilities, exposed to actionable noise levels whilst working for the defendants. The likelihood was that there was a supervening idiopathic cause of his hearing loss which occurred at a much later date.

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