by Noel Towell, Chief Assembly Reporter. The Sydney Morning Herald. March 21, 2013
When William Red said his defence job ruined his hearing and affected his mental health, it was not bombs nor artillery that were blamed.
The office-bound bureaucrat claimed that a colleague’s loud voice left him with permanent hearing damage and mental health problems, but he has lost his battle for worker’s compensation.
The former procurement official said his co-worker ”shrieked, cackled and chortled” while on the phone at their office in Sydney’s Garden Island Naval base at volumes exceeding nightclub levels of 100 decibels.
Even after he had moved to a another workplace, the public servant pushed unsuccessfully for the prosecution of his colleague Catherine Allcroft under work health and safety laws.
But the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has upheld a decision by Commonwealth workplace insurer Comcare to reject Mr Red’s bid for worker’s compensation for acoustic trauma, acoustic shock and anxiety he said he suffered at Garden Island between 2007 and 2010.
According to the evidence at the tribunal, the trouble between Mr Red and Mrs Allcroft, an administrative assistant, began soon after he started working in their ground floor office at Garden Island. Mr Red and
three colleagues had partitioned offices in the building that had high ceilings and poor acoustics, while Mrs Allcroft worked at a desk in a large open area.
According to Mr Red’s evidence, Mrs Allcroft was ”very loud” and she often screamed and sometimes ”shrieked, cackled and chortled”, especially when she was on the phone or when colleagues gathered around her desk.
He testified that on returning from a period of leave, he told Mrs Allcroft that he had enjoyed a quiet, peaceful holiday. ”Well, that’s going to change,” she allegedly replied.
”I’m loud. I’ve been that way for 20 years.”
Mr Red said his tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, was caused by the noise made by Mrs Allcroft.
But medical evidence indicated it was more likely that Mr Red’s hearing problems, which are not disputed, were caused by noise exposure before he began working in the public service.
Tribunal senior member Anne Britton and member William Isles did not accept that Mrs Allcroft exposed her colleague to noise levels exceeding Safe Work Australia’s Exposure Standard.
”We think it improbable that Mr Red was exposed to noise levels of 100 dB or higher,” they wrote.
The tribunal also rejected the claim that Mr Red’s anxiety problems were aggravated by his bosses’ handling of the workplace conflict.