'Noise inspectors' to help State avoid costly payouts
THE noise inspectors are coming to a state office near you.
The agency that manages personal injury and property damage claims against the State is conducting a nationwide sweep of offices in an effort to avoid potentially costly actions by workers for hearing damage.
Officials from the State Claims Agency (SCA) are assessing up to 27 locations across the country to see whether they comply with noise regulations introduced three years ago.
The exercise involves civil-service industrial workers who have "limited" exposure to noise. Typical locations include laboratories, print rooms and workshops.
More than half (61pc) of compensation claims against the State have come from state employees. Of these, a third are by prison officers, a similar number by civil servants, 22pc by members or ex-members of the Defence Forces and 12pc by members of An Garda Siochana.
Army deafness cases alone have resulted in a costly €287.6m bill for the taxpayer -- which included claimants' legal costs of €99.9m.
At the end of June 2009, the SCA had more than 4,100 claims on its books, with a total outstanding contingent liability against all active claims of around €658m.
The extent of the number of claims against the agency can be gauged by its figures for the year 2008 when it received 1,754 new claims and resolved 1,723 of them.
Through the National Treasury Management Agency, which manages the SCA, tenders were recently invited for consultants to complete noise exposure assessments in state-occupied offices throughout the country.
According to the SCA, the purpose of the noise "sweep" is to identify workers "who have the potential to be exposed to harmful noise levels".
The assessment will also ensure compliance with current legislation and it will produce noise exposure risk assessments.
"Robust and rigorous management of occupational health and safety risks reduces the likelihood of claims, provides a greater defence against claims should they arise and reduces the State's exposure to financial loss," the agency told the Irish Independent.
Initial assessments are expected to be completed by the end of this month and any "corrective actions" identified will be tackled.
These may include reducing workers' noise exposure time, hearing checks or whatever engineering and organisational controls that may be recommended by the SCA's consultant.
"As with any potential litigation risk, noise will be subjected to continual review by the state authorities and the SCA," said a spokesman.