The Workers Compensation Commission (now the Personal Injury Commission) recently heard a worker’s claim for compensation for loss of hearing as a consequence of exposure to noise in her employment with Darrell Lea Chocolates Pty Ltd.

The worker commenced work with the respondent in about 1988 as a “Process Worker/Machine Operator”. She states she was exposed to industrial noise including that which emanated from the machinery that made the chocolate eggs, the wrapping machines and the production lines in the respondent’s factory.

She states that the noise of the machinery that makes the chocolate eggs was so loud it could be heard from anywhere in the factory. The worker gave details of her duties including that she would commence work at or around 6.30am each day and her supervisor would allocate her to the machine she would work on for the day, which depended on what orders needed to be completed.

She states that she worked on or in close proximity to various plant and machinery including the chocolate egg machine and wrapping machines and that she would stand on or near the machines and conveyor belts as they operated each day from 6.30 am to about 3:00pm in the afternoon. She also gave evidence that she sometimes worked six days a week but mainly five days a week and that when she was working on or near the machines and someone wanted to talk to her “they would either have to come up to me and scream in my ear or we would have to go outside in order to be heard”.

The worker was assessed by an independent medical examiner who reported that the tendency, incidents and characteristics of the applicant’s employment were such that they could give rise to a real risk of noise induced hearing loss. The examiner was also briefed with material suggesting the worker had no history of head injuries, no history of vertigo or ear infections, no family history of hearing loss, no history of ingestion of ototoxic drugs and no history of sudden hearing loss or non-occupational noise exposure.

The respondent employer rejected the worker’s claim, arguing she was not exposed to the noisy machinery in the manner alleged, and if she was, the machinery was not of a sufficient sound to constitute a noisy work environment. The respondent submitted into evidence a Noise Survey in reliance of their assertions.

As a result of the preparation of the worker’s representatives, the Arbitrator was satisfied the worker had provided sufficient evidence to the independent medical examiner concerning the nature (volume) and extent (duration) of her noise exposure for the examiner to be satisfied that the “tendency, incidents or characteristics” of her employment with the respondent were such as to give rise to a real risk of industrial deafness.

The Arbitrator further noted the medical examiner had prepared his reports in accordance with the Expert Witness Code of Conduct contained in Schedule 7 of the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 and that he ought to be aware of the medical requirements he needed to reach a diagnosis of binaural hearing loss attributable to industrial noise.

The matter was later remitted to the Registrar for referral of the worker to an Approved Medical Specialist, for assessment of any whole person impairment, and any lump sum compensation payable.

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