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Why industrial deafness is the new whiplash

Why industrial deafness is the new whiplash

Feb 9, 2017

Insurers have dubbed industrial deafness ‘the new whiplash’ after a huge increase in the number of compensation claims for the condition over the last two years.

According to insurance and legal experts, claims for deafness have risen by two thirds since 2012 but there have been claims of widespread fraud after it was revealed that just one in ten claims are being paid.

Some major insurance companies are reporting that industrial deafness cases are now the most common workplace injury claim. However, insurers say that the majority of claims are fraudulent. Keep reading to find out more.

Insurers receiving record numbers of industrial deafness claims

According to the Institute of Actuaries, an estimated 80,000 industrial deafness claims were made last year, compared with 55,000 in 2012. However, with only 10 per cent of these successfully receiving payouts, these cases have been dubbed ‘the new whiplash’ by some insurers.

The Independent reports that AXA insurance had more claims for industrial deafness than any other type of workplace injury or illness in 2012, at a cost of £26 million. The newspaper also reports that Aviva, one of Britain’s largest insurance companies, is said to reject 85 per cent of new claims, stating that ‘the vast majority of these claims are fraudulent’.

While insurers are declining the majority of claims there is concern that the number of fraudulent cases are having a negative effect on those people who are genuinely suffering hearing loss as a result of a workplace incident.

Sir Malcolm Bruce, MP and Vice Chair of the UK Parliamentary Group on Deafness, said: “There is certainly a danger for those affected by hearing loss to be swept up by the no-win no-fee promises from injury-based law firms, but it is important to stress that sufferers should seek help and advice from the NHS, who can provide the right support.”

Injury lawyers encouraging clients to make deafness claims

Another reason that deafness claims may be on the rise is because of a recent crackdown on fraudulent whiplash claims. Many insurance companies now suspect that injury-based law firms are encouraging clients to make lucrative claims against damage to hearing instead.

Hundreds of injury-based law firms advertise compensation for industrial deafness online, with sums of up to £70,000 available. Unlike whiplash, however, deafness can be measured against objective criteria, making it easier to define and therefore easier for insurers to accept or decline claims.

If a claim is successful, an individual will generally receive a compensation payout of between £3,000 and £5,000 for tinnitus or minor hearing loss. For a claim to be successful employees must admit that their workplace was negligent with regard to safety measures in place to protect workers against noise.

Lots of claims date back many years

New claims against industrial deafness often date back several years to periods where health and safety procedures were less stringent.

Chris Wood, Senior Policy and Research Officer at the charity Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID), said: “There is a higher prevalence of hearing loss in the north-east of England, where many people now in their 70s and 80s had to work in noisy environments without hearing protection.”

The increase in the number of cases may also be related to the lowering of the noise threshold above which compensation can be claimed. Employers are now liable if they expose their workers to noise upwards of 80 decibels, and must provide protection even in situations when the wearing of protective headphones is not a legal requirement.

The Chairman of the parliamentary group on deafness, Sir Stephen Lloyd, said: “Awareness of the impact of excess noise on hearing in the 1970s and 1980s was not as good as it is today, so it stands to reason that some people may well have been adversely affected.

“However, a properly trained specialist should be able to ascertain whether or not deafness was due to excess noise in the workplace or a natural part of the ageing process.”


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