It has long been known that continued exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Today, in professions involving excessive noise, employers provide workers with protection in the form of earplugs or earmuffs. However, in decades past that was not always the case. One former British railway worker has reached a settlement to compensate him for the damage done to his hearing during his seventeen years on the job.
Nearly Two Decades with British Rail
Seventy-two-year-old Aubrey Akers began working for British Rail after leaving school in 1956. He told ThisisWiltshire.co.uk that while he doesn’t regret his year working for the railway, his choice to work there was motivated by very limited employment options for young men at the time. He spent seventeen years at British Rail’s Swindon works until he was laid off along with 500 colleagues in 1973. During that time he worked in various parts of the depot, where he was exposed to the noise that would cause his hearing loss.
A Noisy Environment
In some parts of the railway depot, more than 300 machines were operating loudly at a time. Other areas featured the banging of riveting, hammering, and the stripping of locomotives. In addition to the noise, fumes hung in the air, creating a haze that workers could not avoid breathing in. As Akers explained to ThisisWiltshire.co.uk, “It was bad in there. It was a terrible and noisy environment. All around the building shop had poor conditions.”
Asked by the website if he felt British Rail had neglected its employees, Akers responded “Absolutely. It was horrible, especially the atmosphere in there. The fumes in the air created a haze. Breathing in all of that stuff and the noise factor made it nasty. When you walked out of there your ears were ringing for days.”
Permanent Hearing Loss
Reflecting on his experience working at British Rail, Akers explained to ThisisWiltshire.co.uk that “You wouldn’t be allowed to work in those conditions now, but you just accepted it because money was the thing back then, as soon as you started earning you didn’t kick up a fuss.”
Those conditions took their toll on Akers’s hearing. He has suffered hearing loss to the extent that he has trouble hearing the television or following conversation when among a group of people. These struggles eventually spurred him to legal action against his former employer.
Seeking - and Getting - Compensation
Akers engaged the Swindon legal firm Charles Lucas & Marshall as his representatives and sued British Rail for financial compensation for the difficulties he faces as the result of his hearing loss. They argued that British Rail was aware at least as early as 1955 that the noise at its depots could harm the hearing of its employees but did nothing to protect (or warn) them. Akers eventually reached an out of court settlement for £8,500. He declared himself happy with the outcome to ThisisWiltshire.co.uk.