Call center worker sues BT after ‘mistake caused serious hearing damage’

A phone line failure left a BT worker with oversensitive hearing

Mark Storey, 48, has suffered from severe tinnitus and trouble sleeping for eight years (Picture: Champion News)

A BT call center worker who says a sudden screeching noise on the line left him with crippling hearing damage is suing his employer for £30,000.

Mark Storey, 48, claims he was answering a call when a “sudden, intense, high-pitched, crackling noise” erupted through the headset that felt “like someone stuck a knitting needle through my ear.”

He suffered persistently from tinnitus, which manifested itself as a high-pitched whistling sound in both ears, and heard so sensitively that even the sound of a colleague tapping a chocolate orange on the table was “intolerable,” a court heard.

Mr Storey notified his manager immediately after the incident at the company’s Lancaster site in 2014, which is said to have also resulted in him suffering from “serious insomnia” in the eight years since.

His colleagues suggested the noise could have been caused by a power surge running through the huge mass of cables under his desk, but it’s not clear if BT investigated the issue further.

The 48-year-old also insisted he had warned his bosses after witnessing a previous sudden noise incident and that they should have done more to protect him.

The case was dismissed by a district court in 2020 on the grounds that the 48-year-old could not prove the level of noise he was exposed to during the call.

However, an appeals court judge overturned the decision on Tuesday because this type of incident, known as “acoustic shock,” can occur even at low noise levels.


Mr Storey is demanding £30,000 in compensation for the incident (Image: Champion News)

BT, which denies liability, insisted its equipment was safe but presented evidence relating to a completely different type of headset than the one it was given.

The actual headset he was wearing is said to be “missing”.

Lady Justice Andrews – who was sitting with Lord Justice Singh and Lady Justice Thirlwall – said Mr Storey “did not need to prove how loud the noise was if he can prove it was such that he suffered acoustic shock”.

His claim is said to have been complicated by the fact that Mr Storey had previously been treated for tinnitus after being hit in the head by a football.

Therapy to ease his symptoms following the call center incident is said to have been ineffective, and he is also “terrified of putting anything over or near his ears”.

The judge sent the case back to Burnley County Court, which must now decide whether BT was “reasonably informed” about the risk of acoustic shock and took “reasonable steps” to protect Mr Storey.

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Justin Scacco

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