When a role involves exposure to loud noise, employers have a duty to protect their staff’s hearing by providing sufficient hearing protection. If employers fail to act or are slow to introduce changes, their employees suffer the consequences and could end up seeking compensation for noise-induced hearing loss.
We recently acted on behalf of a DPF (Defence Police Federation) union member to seek compensation for his hearing loss caused by excessive noise exposure throughout his career as a firearms officer. Here we look at his compensation claim for hearing loss in detail.
Our client joined the Ministry of Defence Police in 1986. When he joined, he had a full medical health check, which didn’t identify any issues with his hearing.
His role required rigorous ongoing training. Every three to six months, he underwent qualification shoots, where he and several other officers would be on a shooting range for hours at a time. He also took part in simulations that used loud pyrotechnics.
When he first started in his role, our client was provided with no hearing protection. His employer eventually introduced ear defenders for officers to wear, but their protection was limited because there were situations where the officers had to remove them.
Our client continued to undergo these training sessions regularly throughout his career. While the hearing protection his employer provided did gradually improve over the years, the damage to our client’s hearing had already been done.
In 2002 our client became aware of his hearing loss. He saw a consultant otolaryngologist, who diagnosed hearing loss in his left ear.
He had hearing tests with occupational health, which informed him his hearing was deteriorating, but he was told he was still fit for work.
However, in 2017, when taking part in another qualification shoot, our client failed to hear an important instruction and was sent off the shooting range. A few days later, occupational health phoned him to tell him that he no longer met the criteria for a firearms officer and would be removed from duty. The loss of his role caused him a great deal of stress. At this stage, he also began to suffer from tinnitus.
We recovered our client’s medical and occupational health records and intimated a claim to his employer, who admitted liability subject to medical causation.
To prove causation, we needed to gather medical evidence. We constructed a consultant ENT surgeon to examine our client and provide us with a medical report. The report confirmed that our client suffered from high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss caused by ageing and excessive noise exposure.
We sent this report to the defender but received no offer of compensation. Therefore, we raised court proceedings in the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court.
Because our client’s hearing loss had caused him to retire from his career early, we obtained a pension loss report from a consultant actuary and a supportive employment report from an employment consultant. We also had a report from a consultant psychiatrist, who determined that our client was suffering from depression after leaving his role.
The defender also collected their own medical evidence. Their medical expert considered that the noise exposure was only responsible for the hearing loss in one ear.
As the case advanced towards the proof date, the defender made an offer of £27,500, which we rejected. The defender also argued that the case was time-barred (in Scotland, court proceedings for personal injury claims must be started within three years of the accident or illness), but this was not true, as our client had been exposed to high levels of noise within three years of the court action being raised.
We then obtained a further medical report from an expert who was of the opinion that the noise exposure had damaged both ears.
This case was complex, and the defender made several offers, all of which we rejected because they were too low. Negotiations continued as more medical evidence was gathered, and eventually the defender put forward a hearing loss compensation offer of £100,000. We discussed this with our client, who confirmed he was happy to accept.
The case was settled on 11 November 2022.