There has been a “staggering” rise in the number of deafness cases, with lawyers “exploiting” the lack of certainty around the condition, a specialist insurer for the construction industry claimed yesterday.
Electrical Contractors’ Insurance Company (ECIC) said the number of deafness claims it is managing more than doubled between 2012 and 2013, and it expects a further increase by the end of 2014.
ECIC provides insurance for tradespeople in the main from within the electrical contracting, roofing, plumbing, lift maintenance and heating and ventilation sectors.
ECIC said that while control of noise levels is a particular issue in the construction sector, it believes “along with other insurers, that the rise in deafness claims can partly be attributed to an increased focus by the legal profession on pursuing these types of claims”.
The Association of British Insurers recently warned that industrial deafness had become a new “cash cow” for the legal profession.
Ian Hollingworth, claims manager at ECIC said: “The rise in deafness claims is staggering and a real concern. While there will be genuine claims we do have a concern that a good proportion will be speculative and potentially exaggerated.
“The best protection for employers is to ensure they follow the HSE’s guidelines to the letter. This will not only limit the risk of exposure but offer some protection against liability claims and the solicitors now focusing on this type of claim.”
Under guidelines set out by the Health and Safety Executive, if any work is undertaken in an environment where the noise is consistently over 80 decibels, for example from electric drills or belt sanders, action needs to be taken to limit the risk of hearing damage and litigation. Employers must provide information about the impact of noise, and protection for the employee to use.
Mr Hollingworth added: “The real challenge is in proving damage to hearing has occurred and, indeed that this has been caused by work given reports over the past few years warning of a rise in hearing loss in young people due to the use of MP3 players. This lack of certainty is something that is no doubt being exploited by the legal profession.”