In the case of Baker v Quantum Clothing Group, the Supreme Court has today overturned a Court of Appeal judgment which held employers liable for hearing loss caused by noise above 85 decibels from 1978 onwards. Paul Coppin, partner at international law firm Eversheds comments:

“Today’s decision handed down by the Supreme Court restores common sense to the assessment of liability in hearing loss claims arising in respect of exposure to noise before January 1990. This decision is also important for employers and their insurers as it overturns the retrospective interpretation of s29 of the Factories Act 1961 in relation to keeping workplaces ‘safe’.

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“The Supreme Court decision confirms that there is no such thing as an unchanging concept of safety. Instead it is a relative concept in which foreseeability plays a part in the assessment as to whether the workplace was safe. Therefore safety is to be judged according to general knowledge and standards at the time of the alleged breach of duty. This applies to both the assessment as to whether the workplace is safe and as to whether the defendant has complied with the duty ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.

“Employers and their insurers will be reassured by the Supreme Court’s ruling that the 1961 Act was not intended to impose a liability that was more stringent than the common law. The Court of Appeal decision imposed modern day standards upon employers retrospectively for historic exposure and this has now been overruled by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court judgment brings employers back full circle to the position that existed before the Court of Appeal ruling in May 2009.”