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Silence is not golden...

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For the thousands of workers who suffer from industrial deafness - the topic for discussion at the Northern TUC Health and Safety Forum on Friday 28th September was of great importance. Many people assume the affects of exposure to excessive levels of noise affects mainly workers in heavy industry but the reality is that over one million people are affected by noise in the workplace and over 17,000 people currently suffer from work-related noise induced hearing loss.

Gill Hale, Chair of the Northern TUC opened the meeting by paying tribute to the work of health and safety reps, acknowledging the huge contribution they make to the health and wellbeing of trade union members in the workplace. She then introduced the first speaker, Steve Mann, CWU Policy Officer on health and safety.

H&SSteve started by saying that noise at work can cause hearing damage that is permanent and disabling and once your hearing is destroyed you don't recover from it. Hearing loss is not the only problem as sufferers may go on to develop tinnitus, a distressing condition which can lead to disturbed sleep and hypersensitivity to noise.

Steve also referred to noise interference acoustic shock, a problem identified within call centres. 'Acoustic Shock' is a term used in connection with incidents involving exposure to short duration, high frequency, high intensity sounds through a telephone headset or handset. However, The Control of Noise at Work Regulations does not include specific reference to acoustic shock. The CWU is continuing to fight for recognition of acoustic shock as a potentially devastating industrial injury problem and has worked with its lawyers, Simpson Millar to achieve compensation for those members suffering personal injury. It is interesting to note that all CWU litigation cases concerning acoustic shock have been settled out of court before a precedent judgement could be made. The first 120 cases the CWU took up resulted in total compensation of £279,881.00 for members affected by acoustic Shock (it is believed the UK figure is now around £2M paid out by employers in out of court settlements).

Steve finished his presentation by saying as with all workplace hazards noise induced hearing loss is preventable. It is our job as safety reps to speak to members and find out what the issues are; press for noise awareness training and noise reporting procedures; make sure that incidents are reported - however small and continue to campaign for solutions. He hoped that reps would use the information contained in his presentation as a resource - download a copy Presentation for Northern Region TUC 28 September 2012.ppt

H&SThe Chair thanked Steve for his presentation and welcomed Kate Virica of Simpson Millar, whose support in organising this event is much appreciated. Kate explained she would be covering the process for noise induced hearing claims and how the law fits in when making a claim. Claimants need to establish whether the hearing loss is bi-lateral (both ears) or asymmetrical and what level the tinnitus is - mild, moderate, severe, catastrophic. In over 50% of NIHL cases the claimant suffers from tinnitus which can leave sufferers feeling isolated as they don't want to go out in public, affects sleeping patterns and can lead to depression. Over 500,000 people in the UK suffer hearing loss as a result of excessive noise at work. To be successful, unions have to prove the employer knew, or should have known that work could cause an injury and therefore negligence; obtain medical evidence; interview the client and speak to partner, family to get witness statements; track all employers; look at all relevant records and regulations and previous cases to assess levels of compensation. Kate stressed the importance of making sure the claim is issued proceedings in time - within 3 years of developing significant symptoms and realising or when they ought to have realised that their condition was work related. Do not wait until the problem is severe, speak to your doctor and make sure any hearing problems are investigated. Union reps are an invaluable source of information and can provide access to health and safety meeting minutes, noise surveys and warning notices.

Reps were then asked to discuss in groups:

Their concerns about noise in the workplace

What actions can be taken to tackle noise at work

Identify any barriers / resources

A number of points were brought up in discussion including: raising awareness among all staff, carry out monitoring exercises, make sure proper reporting procedures are in place and that staff know what they are, advise staff of the three year qualifying period for claims, press for training in call centres. One group came up with a useful acronym to encapsulate the discussion 'A.C.T.' - Awareness - Communication - Training.

The Forum ended with lunch and an opportunity to discuss in further detail, issues and concerns with the two speakers.

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