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A January 2016 decision by the Medical Appeal Panel of the Workers Compensation Commission considers whether the hearing losses at frequencies below 2000 Hz should be included in an assessment of hearing loss.

In this instance, the Approved Medical Specialist (AMS) incorrectly included the losses at 1000 Hz and 1500 Hz in the assessment of hearing loss. The decision highlights the need for self-insurers and insurers to carefully consider all medical evidence supporting claims for workers' compensation. 

Background

Mr Rakic was employed by Sydney City Council from 1970 until 18 July 1996. Mr Rakic was exposed to noise between 1970 and 1986 during his employment, which it was claimed contributed to his hearing loss. The date of his injury was deemed to be 18 July 1996, being the last day of his employment with the Council.

Mr Rakic lodged a claim for lump sum compensation for his binaural hearing loss. The claim for lump sum compensation progressed to an assessment by an AMS who assessed Mr Rakic to have an impairment of 29.9% binaural hearing loss. In assessing the impairment, the AMS took into account hearing loss at frequencies 1000 Hz and 1500 Hz and reasoned  the losses at the lower frequencies should be included in the assessment of industrial deafness due to Mr Rakic's long history of noise exposure.

Sparke Helmore lodged an appeal against the AMS's assessment.

The decision

The Panel agreed the AMS had erred in including the hearing loss at frequencies of 1000 Hz and 1500 Hz in the  assessment of industrial deafness. The medical specialists on the Panel stated the evidence about duration and extent of the worker's exposure to industrial noise did not permit a conclusion that the hearing loss at the lower frequencies was consistent with hearing loss due to noise exposure. It noted Mr Rakic was likely exposed to noisy employment over a period of 25 years, which covered the period from his arrival in Australia in 1961 to 1986 when the exposure to noise ceased. Further, the Panel noted there was a relatively flat hearing loss between 500 Hz and 1500 Hz on the audiogram, which was inconsistent with the loss being due to industrial deafness.

The Panel referred to an earlier decision of Shone v Country Energy [2007] NSWWCCMA 18 (10 August 2007) (Shone) in which the lower frequencies were included in the assessment of loss. In Shone, the claimant had been exposed to occupational noise for over 49 years, 37 of which he had been employed by Country Energy. The Medical Appeal Panel in Shone accepted that all of the hearing loss, including those at frequencies 500, 1000 and 1500 Hz, were attributable to occupational noise. In doing so, the Panel emphasised that there was a progressive loss of hearing in the lower frequencies, which was indicative of hearing loss due to occupational noise.

The fact that Mr Rakic's hearing loss was relatively flat in the lower frequencies and only over a 25 year period, half the duration of what Mr Shone experienced, led the Panel to conclude that the AMS had erred in including this in the assessment of Mr Rakic's industrial hearing loss.

This is a Sparke Helmore matter.

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