A BT call center worker says the loud headphones sound left him with “knitting needle” ears

Mark Storey is suing BT, claiming a loud mistake on a customer call damaged his hearing so badly that even tapping a Terry’s Chocolate Orange puts him in agony

Mark says the noise in his ears is'extremely unbearable'
Mark says the noise in his ears is ‘extremely unbearable’

A call center worker claims an intense, high-pitched noise in his headset made his ears so sensitive that the sound of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange being pounded on a table puts him in agony.

BT employee Mark Storey, 48, said he suffered “audible shock” from a loud fault on the line during a customer call and is now suing for £30,000 in damages.

Mark has likened the “excruciating” feeling in his ears to a “knitting needle” and claims his hearing is permanently damaged.

However, BT declines liability and says Mr Storey, from Carnforth in Lancashire, must show he has been exposed to harmful noise and that his hearing has been affected.

Mark has now “developed a fear of putting anything over or near his ear”

In 2020, the case reached Burnley County Court when Mr Storey’s case was dismissed – but the Court of Appeal has now reinstated the action, allowing him to continue with his bid for damages.

Outlining the case on appeal, Lady Justice Andrews said Mr Storey was working at the BT call center in Lancaster in April 2014 when the alleged incident took place.

He said he was answering a call when a “sudden, intense, high-pitched crackle” erupted through the headset, which he described as “feeling like someone had put a knitting needle through my ear”.

Mark claims in his evidence that he threw down his headphones and told his manager what happened, adding his colleagues had suggested a mass of wires under his desk might have been electrocuted and contributed to the sudden noise.

BT’s written defense of the claim says Mark was fitted with a headset that limits noise and adjusts audio to safe levels

“Mr Storey said he experienced symptoms of nausea and dizziness that evening and a high-pitched, multi-toned whistling noise in his right ear that caused him severe insomnia at the time and since,” the judge continued.

“He also had a headache in the side of his head that lasted for 48 hours. The tinnitus continued. He became intolerant of loud noises, so even the sound of a colleague tapping a chocolate orange on the table before unwrapping it was unbearable.

“He underwent numerous examinations and tests as well as cognitive behavioral therapy to relieve the symptoms of the tinnitus.

“Nevertheless, in September 2014 the tinnitus became bilateral. It is now classified as permanent. He has developed a fear of putting anything above or near his ears.”

Mark Storey has sued BT for “acoustic shock” from a work headset

In its written defense of the claim, BT said Mr Storey was fitted with a headset that limits noise, automatically monitors sound and adjusts it to safe levels.

In district court in 2020, his lawsuit was dropped on the grounds that he could not determine the level of noise he was exposed to on the April 2014 call.

However, the appeals judge said the decision was “wrong” because acoustic shock could occur at relatively low noise levels and the headset he was using was now “missing”.

Evidence presented by BT to show his headset was secure actually involved a completely different device, not the one he was wearing in April 2014.

“Given the evidence that acoustic shock can occur at noise levels below levels that would physically damage the ear, Mr. Storey would not need to prove how loud the noise was if he can prove that it was an acoustic shock.” shock,” she said.

However, the BT worker’s case was further complicated by the fact that he had previously suffered from tinnitus after being hit in the head by a football and was treated under GP treatment.

Mr Storey also claims that he had experienced a previous incident of sudden noises coming through his headset and that they were aware of the problem and should have done more to protect him as he had told his superiors.

Lady Justice Andrews, sitting with Lord Justice Singh and Lady Justice Thirlwall, allowed his appeal and reinstated his case, saying it should go back to the District Court for a decision.

“It is for the trial judge … to determine whether BT was sufficiently informed of acoustic incidents and the risk of acoustic shock arising from such incidents that it should have taken steps to protect itself against staff being involved in this.” Call centers may be suffering from acoustic shock and if so, given the facts of this case, whether BT has taken reasonable steps to protect Mr Storey from a foreseeable risk of physical injury,” she said.

No date was given for the hearing of the new trial of Mr Storey’s claim.

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Fry Electronics Team

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