How Many Hearing Loss Injuries In the Armed Forces Are There Each Year?

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How Many Hearing Loss Injuries In the Armed Forces Are There Each Year?

The unique challenges and environments faced by military personnel often expose them to situations that can adversely affect their hearing health. Recognising the extent of hearing loss injuries, understanding their causes, and exploring preventative measures are vital steps in addressing this concern. For those affected, knowing why and how to seek support is essential.

To learn more about how common noise-induced hearing loss happens to those serving in the armed forces, we have taken a look through data from the Ministry of Defence (MOD). In the following blog post, we outline the key points of the data, including the most prevalent causes of noise-induced hearing loss, and discuss what the MOD can do to mitigate these risks.

Understanding the Scale of the Problem

According to a Freedom of Information request that we submitted to the MOD, we can see that the issue of hearing loss within the armed forces is a significant concern. Between 6 April 2005 and 30 September 2023, the Ministry of Defence reported a total of 3,321 claims related to Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS). Out of these, 3,118 (94%) claims were accepted, with only 203 being rejected.

In addition to this, general figures from the MOD show that NIHL claims were by far the most frequent claims made against the MOD for Service Personnel Employer’s Liability compensation. The number of new claims for 2022/23 sits at 4,959 (75% of all claims made that year). Compared to the next highest frequency (228 claims for non-freezing cold injuries), this is clearly significantly higher.

 These figures highlight the prevalence of NIHL among military personnel and underscore the need for ongoing attention to and support for hearing health within the armed forces.

The data represents claims from across all sectors of the Armed Forces, including the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. The significant number of accepted claims demonstrates the MOD's recognition of NIHL as a service-related condition. However, the presence of rejected claims also raises questions about the criteria for acceptance and the challenges some personnel may face in having their conditions acknowledged and compensated.

Historical data from earlier FOI requests, such as this report that details hearing loss trends from 2011 to 2018, shows variations in the number of claims made in different years:

  • In 2011/12, there were 305 claims under AFCS for NIHL.
  • In 2016/17, the number was 165.
  • In 2017/18, it further decreased to 140.

However, more general figures for all NIHL claims made against the MOD show that this number has been increasing:

  • In 2018/19, 1,562 new common law NIHL claims were made against the MOD.
  • In 2019/20, the number was 2,505.
  • In 2022/23, it further increased to the 4,571 figure.

Further, in 2022/23, only 1,706 claims of the total 4,571 were settled - that is only 37%. There can only be two reasons for this - the claims being made are false (which we suspect is not the case, based on our own experience) or the claims are not being processed adequately.

This is a huge increase and clearly indicates that hearing loss is a significant problem for service personnel. It also implies that there are better routes to obtain compensation for military hearing loss than the AFCS. 

This understanding of the scale of the problem sets the stage for exploring the causes of hearing loss within the armed forces and the measures that can be taken to prevent it. The data not only provides a snapshot of the impact of NIHL on military personnel but also highlights the importance of addressing this issue proactively.

The Causes of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in the Armed Forces

The prevalence of NIHL among military personnel can be attributed to several factors inherent to military service. Understanding these causes is crucial for developing effective prevention and mitigation strategies.

There are several sources that offer commentary on the common causes of hearing loss in the armed forces, such as these reports from the Royal British Legion and the Independent Medical Expert Group. Additionally, we can compare the data with examples from an official US study that offers insights from military reports that detail the primary contributors to NIHL within Western armed forces. Universally, these sources conclude that the following are, and have been for some time, the most common causes of hearing loss in the armed forces:

  • Exposure to loud noises: the most significant cause of NIHL in the military is exposure to loud noises. This includes the sound of gunfire, explosions, aircraft and heavy machinery. Many military roles involve training and operations in environments where such noise exposure is frequent and often unavoidable.
  • Operations in built-up areas: military operations in urban or built-up areas tend to amplify the effects of loud noises. The reverberation of sound off buildings and hard surfaces can intensify noise exposure, increasing the risk of hearing damage.
  • Large-calibre weapons fire: the use of large-calibre weapons, both in training and combat, poses a high risk for hearing loss. Studies have shown that the noise levels produced by these weapons often exceed the maximum protection that can be offered by standard hearing protection devices.
  • Inadequate hearing protection: although hearing protection is often provided, there are instances where it may not be fully effective against the volume of noise encountered, or there may be situations where soldiers cannot use hearing protection without compromising their operational capabilities.
  • Lack of awareness and training: personnel may not always be fully informed on how to effectively use hearing protection devices, or may underestimate the risks associated with noise exposure.

Prevention Measures

Given the identified causes of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) within the armed forces, it is imperative that the MOD implements comprehensive prevention measures. Effective prevention not only protects service personnel from NIHL but also ensures their operational effectiveness is not compromised by hearing loss. The following strategies are essential in mitigating the risk of NIHL:

  • Enhanced hearing protection: developing and deploying advanced hearing protection devices that can reduce noise exposure to safe levels without impeding situational awareness or communication is critical. These devices should be capable of adapting to different noise environments, from the sudden explosion of ordnance to the constant drone of aircraft engines.
  • Acoustic engineering in equipment and environments: incorporating acoustic engineering principles in the design of military equipment and environments can significantly reduce noise levels. For vehicles, weapons and machinery, this may involve designing quieter systems without compromising performance. For training and operational environments, acoustic modifications can help dissipate sound energy safely.
  • Training and awareness programmes: comprehensive training programmes that educate military personnel about the risks of noise exposure and the importance of hearing protection are vital. This includes instruction on the proper use and maintenance of hearing protection devices and strategies to minimise noise exposure during operations and training.
  • Regular hearing assessments: early detection allows for prompt intervention, such as adjustments in duty assignments or additional protective measures, to prevent further hearing damage.
  • Operational and tactical changes: whenever possible, operational and tactical changes that reduce noise exposure should be considered. This could involve modifying training exercises, adjusting the use of heavy weaponry, or deploying noise-reducing tactics in built-up areas.
  • Research and development: investing in research and development focused on hearing loss prevention and treatment can lead to breakthroughs in protective technology and medical interventions. This includes exploring new materials for ear protection, advanced auditory treatment techniques, and noise-cancelling technology.

By prioritising these prevention measures, the MOD can significantly reduce the incidence of NIHL among military personnel. Protecting the hearing health of those who serve not only enhances their quality of life, but also maintains the operational readiness and effectiveness of the armed forces.

Implementing these strategies requires a commitment to ongoing evaluation and adaptation, ensuring that prevention measures evolve in line with emerging technologies and insights into noise-induced hearing damage.

Legal guidance plays a critical role in helping service people who have been affected by noise-induced hearing loss to make compensation claims specialist lawyers, such as those at JMW, ensure that affected personnel have the best chance to receive the full range of entitlements and support they deserve. 

The journey towards fair compensation and adequate support for NIHL can be challenging, but it is not one that affected armed forces personnel need to navigate alone. Seeking legal support is a vital step in securing the compensation and recognition they are entitled to, and the necessary treatments and adjustments to support their ongoing health and wellbeing.

Talk to Us

At JMW Solicitors, we are committed to providing the specialised support and representation needed to navigate these claims successfully, ensuring that our clients receive the best possible outcome. To learn more, simply call us today on 0345 872 6666, or fill out an online contact form to arrange a time for us to call you back at your convenience.

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