As has been outlined in previous blogs, the Return to Work Act came into operation on
1 July 2015. This law completely overhauled the previous workers compensation legislation that had been in place for decades. Almost every aspect of workers compensation and the entitlements that are afforded to injured workers changed from 1 July 2015.
At Andersons, we work closely with many different clients from a variety of different industries. Many clients work in factories, processing plants other noisy environments, and unfortunately succumb to hearing related injuries after years of noise exposure. Sometimes the impact of noise induced hearing loss is not apparent for decades, and often a worker only realises they are suffering once they have already left the job that contributed to the hearing loss (for example, post retirement, or a career change).
Many clients who unfortunately suffer work related noise induced hearing loss want to know what type of compensation they may be eligible for. Under the Return to Work scheme, a worker may be entitled to compensation for their ‘permanent impairment’. This compensation may be sought irrespective of whether the hearing loss is in one or both ears, or even if the worker is suffering from other hearing related problems including tinnitus (ringing in the ears). A 5% whole of person impairment threshold applies in order to be considered for this type of compensation.
The criteria for working out the percentage of hearing loss is complicated, and a specialist accredited ENT (Ear Noise and Throat doctor or doctor with similar expertise) will have to assess the injured worker and provide a report regarding the extent of the hearing loss.
The calculation of the percentage of hearing loss attributable by the workplace is often complicated by the fact that non work related factors may have contributed to the hearing loss. For example, the worker may have already been suffering from some hearing loss when they commenced particular employment and this employment cannot be blamed for the total impairment. Similarly, the worker may be suffering from an underlying degenerative hearing condition which contributes to the hearing loss. Alternatively, the hearing loss may be worsened simply because of the affects of old age.
Dealing with claims for the aggravation or exacerbation or acceleration of pre-existing noise induced hearing loss can be complicated, and we recommend you seek immediate legal advice if you are suffering this type of injury.
Unlike other physical work related injuries, hearing loss is specifically excluded under the Return to Work Act for another form of compensation called ‘economic loss’. We will not deal with economic loss in this blog.
Even if the worker does not meet the relevant threshold to obtain permanent impairment compensation (a lump sum payment), they will still be eligible for the payment of reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to their hearing loss, assuming of course the hearing loss is accepted as being work related.
A worker may claim the reasonable and necessary cost associated with the provision, maintenance, replacement or repair of a ‘therapeutic device’. That term includes hearing aids which can often cost thousands of dollars. Also, some severe hearing loss sufferers may require more invasive treatment including surgery and even the implantation of devices (eg, a cochlear implant). These costs should not be borne by the injured worker if their claim for hearing loss is accepted.
Work related noise induced hearing loss can create complex legal problems. We recommend that you contact us if you are suffering hearing loss or tinnitus and you believe your workplace caused the injury. You should seek advice even if you are no longer employed by the business that resulted in your injury. We will be happy to work with you to investigate your potential entitlements to compensation.