Scotland: £240,000 awarded to employee who suffered hearing damage from faulty fire alarm

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A woman who required hearing aids after her ears were damaged by a faulty fire alarm at her workplace has been awarded over £241,000 in compensation.

The All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court heard how Haesel McDonald, who was an employee of tanning salon operator Indigo Sun Retail Ltd sought reparation for injury in the form of tinnitus and hearing loss arising from four hours of exposure to the noise from the alarms in her workplace.

Sheriff John Mundy was told that Indigo Sun Retail Ltd was aware that the fire alarm on the premises was faulty, causing it to sound unnecessarily on numerous occasions. On the morning of 12 December 2015, when Haesel McDonald was working an 9am to 1pm shift, the fire alarm went off.

The court heard how the noise from the alarms made it difficult for Miss McDonald to concentrate on her work. She telephoned her manager, Steven Campbell, for assistance, who indicated that he would come to the salon but that she should continue working. Miss McDonald said she was frustrated by this outcome, hoping that the alarm would be able to be switched off or that she would be allowed to go home, but she remained at the salon, saying she feared she would lose her job if she left.

The premises manager, Mr Campbell, arrived at the premises at around 11am and attempted to muffle the sound of the alarm with tape, saying that an engineer had been called. Miss McDonald said she was not offered any form of ear protection and was told to keep working. The court heard how nearby shops, that were also having problems with their alarms, managed to either turn them off or sent all of their employee’s home.

“Ringing in her ears”

An investigation into the incident heard that Miss McDonald exposed to an average of 87.5dB prior to her manager placing tape over the alarm and 82.9dB thereafter. She said she continued to be aware of a ringing in both ears after her shift had ended and later noticed an impairment of her hearing. In December 2016 she was diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and provided with hearing aids on the NHS.

In March 2017, Miss McDonald was referred to a consultant otolaryngologist, Professor Laing. His working diagnosis was that the pursuer had sensitive inner ears and that most of her hearing loss had been caused by the exposure to the noise of the alarms.

It was averred that the pursuer no longer felt able to pursue a career in dance due to a loss of confidence caused by her hearing impairment. Further, her NHS hearing aids were generally uncomfortable, and it would be better to replace them with a private model.

Indigo Sun Retail Ltd was found to be at fault in common law and under its statutory duty under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. Miss McDonald should not have been exposed to the noise of the alarm and she should have been instructed to leave the premises after it had activated.


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