Why did noisy work gear force BT to pay damages to a retired worker?


A 64 year-old Mid-Glamorgan telecomms employee has won compensation from BT for his impaired hearing and tinnitus brought on during his employment.

Hearing Loss Claims

For 41 years the man was employed by BT and its earlier companies as a telecommunications engineer. For a large part of his time with the company, he was required extensively to use oscillator and amplifier equipment, together with headphone sets.

Loud workplaces forced high volumes

The headphones featured an earpiece through which tones were channelled, often turned up to high volumes to overcome the noisy background working environment.

However, the worker was often exposed to very sudden high-frequency screeching sounds, which could physically be very painful and cause him to wince and pull off the headset. Although during the course of his work our client alternated his headset from 1 side to the other, he tended to favour his right ear.

Deafness and tinnitus

Over time, medical examinations would show that the engineer had suffered bi-lateral sensorineural hearing impairment – deafness, in short – and tinnitus.

Although the man is now retired, the diagnosis clearly had severe implications for his future wellbeing. Today he suffers a constant high-pitched tone in his ears, while he struggles to hear when he is in a noisy environment.

No warnings about excessive noise

Simpson Millar LLP, who acted for the engineer, observed that his employer had provided no warnings about working with excessive noise.

"It's important to note that our client has not been exposed to such noise in any other endeavour during the course of his life," Simpson Millar LLP said. "For these and other reasons we believe pursuit of damages was a wholly appropriate response to his predicament."

BT at fault

BT had failed to provide a safe system and place of work, and should have provided the engineer with suitable equipment for the work he was required to do.

"In all 11 breaches were cited, among the most serious was the fact that BT had failed to have due regard for our client's safety. Given the circumstances, our client is pleased to have received an entirely justified compensation package of £9,000."

Top tips to take home:

  • If you work in a noisy environment, your employers are duty-bound to provide you with safety clothing and equipment
  • Your employers also have to ensure the noise-generating equipment you work with is maintained according to strict Health and Safety standards
  • It is your employer's insurance company that pays out compensation, not your boss directly – there should be no comeback on you if you stay with the company

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