BT Hearing Loss Claims: How to determine if former British Telecom engineers can claim compensation for hearing damage caused from the use of oscillators
Industrial deafness solicitor describes in A site visitor FAQ how to show legal liability for BT hearing loss claims; how to prove that oscillator noise caused your hearing damage / tinnitus and how long the law allows for you to commence a claim from the date your hearing loss was diagnosed at hospital.
BT hearing loss claims question
I worked in the past for BT as a telephone engineer. As part of my job – I was required to test phone lines for both domestic and business customers when the telephone line was not working correctly, which might be that the line is not working at all or has excessive interference and crackling.
To do this I attend at the customer’s premises and use a device known as an oscillator. This oscillator device is connected to the phone line at the customer’s premises and produces a loud noise. I then go to the junction box – located on a local street where all the phone lines for that area are sectioned from.
I then listen using headphones at the junction box to located the sound and hence the line. A set of headphones is used – typically having the head phone to the right ear.
The noise produced by the oscillator is extremely loud. 15 years or so ago – BT had an oscillator, which workers knew as a yellow oscillator, which had replaced a green oscillator. BT engineers used these yellow oscillators for many years – until BT introduced a much quieter oscillator known as the blue oscillator or 87J oscillator.
In the last year – I have struggled to hear what is being said in social situations, especially when I am out with friends and there is background noise, I have struggled to locate the direction of sounds, family members have complained that I miss people at the door, the phone ringing and I have the TV turned up too loud.
I have also noticed a loud buzzing sound in my right ear, which initially came and went – but is now continuous. It is particularly troublesome at nights – when I can be woken by the buzzing sound in the early mornings and cannot get back to sleep.
I went to see my GP early this year about the buzzing sound and the GP sent me to an NHS hospital to have my hearing tested.
At hospital I saw an audiologist who tested my hearing in a booth. The audiologist passed the hearing test to an ENT doctor at the hospital who explained that that I had a significant hearing loss in my right ear and the buzzing sound was a condition known as tinnitus.
I was told that both conditions would not improve and that the hearing test audiogram suggested my hearing loss was due to excessive continuous noise exposure. The doctor asked me about my work and I explained about British Telecom’s yellow oscillator.
I was told that as I was using this day in day out, and the head phones operated to expose my right ear to the noise and not my left, it was likely that this was the cause of the hearing loss.
The noise exposure that took place was over 15 years ago, but I have only earlier this year found out about the damage done to my hearing. I was never given any warning about the dangers of noise by my employer and I had no option, but to use the yellow oscillator equipment provided.
Is it possible to make a claim against British Telecom despite the fact that my noise exposure took place many years ago?
Noise induced hearing loss solicitor response
There are a few considerations that must be taken into account to determine if you can make a claim for compensation.
1. Was your noise exposure excessive given the state of knowledge at the time your exposure took place
An employer is responsible for defective work equipment or equipment that produces excessive noise. Our knowledge of what is excessive has changed over time and an employer can only be held liable for noise levels known to be too high at the time of noise exposure.
Both the BT green and the yellow oscillator have been shown in the past to produce excessive noise and cause hearing damage to workers.
If BT did not accept this assertion – your solicitor would instruct an independent engineering expert who would look at the records held by BT for the particular oscillator used at the time of your exposure. From this information – it could be determined what the noise levels you would have been exposed to at the time and if those noise levels were considered excessive.
On this basis – it seems that there could be merit in a potential claim against BT on the issue of legal fault or liability.
Click industrial deafness claim to see our detailed article explaining how to prove liability for noise induced hearing loss claims.
2. Can the excessive noise exposure be proven to cause hearing damage?
As you have described – your hearing test was completed at hospital by an audiologist and the results interpreted by an ENT (Ear Nose And Throat consultant).
The hearing test results are typically plotted out in a graph known as an audiogram. The shape of the audiogram can determine if the hearing loss came from noise or from other causes, such as age.
Click hearing loss audiogram to see a detailed article explaining how the audiogram can show noise induced hearing loss.
The opinion expressed to you by the ENT suggested you experienced hearing damage from exposure to the excessive oscillator noise whilst working for BT.
Although, information is very helpful, but an extra step is necessary to prove that the noise actually caused hearing loss. As part of a claim you would be sent by your solicitor to see an independent medical expert – who would perform a further hearing test in the correct conditions to establish if in actual fact the new hearing test results (as shown on a new audiogram) can be proven to have come from the oscillator noise.
The hearing loss would need to be at the correct frequency to match that of the oscillator. The past and new hearing tests would need to be shown as consistent with each other and as demonstrating noise induced hearing loss (also known as industrial deafness) and tinnitus.
3. Are you still in time to make a claim
All types of personal injury claim are subject to statutory limitation periods, which generally allow you three years from the date of injury or knowledge of injury to commence a claim at court before it is too late to claim.
Noise induced hearing loss is classed as an industrial injury and although hearing loss occurs at the time of exposure to the noise – workers typically do not experience symptoms until many years later.
This is because, in addition to hearing loss from noise – we all experience hearing loss from age and other causes. Only when the hearing loss has dropped to a low enough combined level would you start to exhibit the symptoms as you have described – the sound in your ear (tinnitus), others noticing that the TV is too high and struggling to hear when there is background noise.
These symptoms all occurred in the last year and you then logically sought medical attention.
Therefore – knowledge of injury is likely to run from when you first sought medical attention and at the latest when you were first given the results at the hospital.
When determining the three year period – your solicitor and the independent medical doctor instructed as part of your claim would need access to your GP notes to ensure that no hearing problems were reported to your doctor in the past.
Discuss your noise exposure and making of BT hearing loss claims with a specialist solicitor
Noise induced hearing loss claims are notoriously difficult to properly assess and this is best done by having a discussion with a specialist solicitor.
I am happy to speak to you in person to discuss in more detail your oscillator work exposure and explain the process of BT hearing loss claims.
Should you wish to discuss your claim you can call me direct on 0161 8346776 or contact us online by clicking industrial deafness claims solicitor where you will find all of this website’s free online services.