Career Advice Office Gossip

Colleague's screaming 'caused mild deafness'

A former aircraft traffic control officer is seeking compensation from the government for mild deafness he says he suffered when a female colleague's scream was amplified through a communications system.

In a writ filed yesterday, Richard Egbers, 43, alleges the Civil Aviation Department failed to ensure workplace safety and he has suffered a loss of earnings because he could no longer do his former job.

According to the writ, Egbers was injured in February last year when the workmate screamed the position of an approaching aircraft she thought appeared to be turning off course. It says his inner right ear suffered from an acoustic burst - a sudden increase in sound over the system.

"Such loud shouting immediately caused the plaintiff to suffer immediate pain in his right inner ear, suffering an acoustic burst or shock," the court document says. Egbers had 65 days' sick leave. 

The injury, which is permanent, has been assessed by a doctor as being "significantly loud tinnitus of 70 dB HL at frequency of 12 kHz". Seventy decibels is roughly equal to the noise of traffic on a busy road, according to the Environmental Protection Department's website. Tinnitus is ringing in the ears that interferes with hearing.

Egbers has also suffered from a post-traumatic adjustment disorder and insomnia, the court document says.

Due to the hearing loss, Egbers has been assessed as unfit to work as an air traffic controller and his professional licence has been withdrawn. He is now working as an operations officer.

He is asking the department to compensate him for the loss of future income because after his retirement in Hong Kong he could have worked in places such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, where there was strong demand for expatriate air controllers.

In the writ, Egbers says that the department failed to instruct all air traffic controllers to have the volume suitably adjusted when taking over a controlling position so that they did not amplify their voices.

He also accuses the department of failing to provide the best and most modern equipment to reduce the harmful effects of shouting by air traffic controllers.

Thomas Chan