A SWINDON man has reached an out of court settlement of £8,500 with British Rail after he became deaf following years of exposure to heavy noise at work.

Aubrey Akers, aged 72, joined British Rail's Swindon works from school in 1956 and stayed there until 1973. He worked in several different parts of the business and in some places over 300 machines were operating at once. In other areas, he had to contend with constant banging from riveting, hammering and the stripping of locomotives.

His solicitor, Brigitte Chandler, a partner at Swindon firm, Charles Lucas & Marshall and one of the country's leading industrial disease lawyers, says she believes other former British Rail employees will have been affected by the constant noise - but may not associate it with hearing loss.

"Mr Akers was exposed to continuous and excessive noise caused by heavy machinery," she said. "Throughout his employment, British Rail never provided him with ear defenders or warned him about the dangers of excessive noise – despite the fact that from 1955 they had been aware of the dangers of noise.

“Many people were horrified when they first arrived at British Rail and the level of noise they were confronted with. Most people just put pieces of cloth or rags into their ears to try to make the noise more bearable.”

Riveting was carried out throughout Mr Aker’s working day with hundreds of men in close proximity using hammers. Large, noisy cranes moved about the workshops and tables which carried the locomotives in and out of the workshops were also extremely noisy.

"All the men could do was stuff dirty rags into their ears to try to reduce the discomfort of the excessive noise,” said Brigitte Chandler. “It was almost impossible to have conversations. Many of these workers, as they get older, experience hearing difficulties.

"Often they think it is old age but there is invariably a strong element of deafness and tinnitus due to noise exposure. Anyone not given hearing protection should take legal advice. A large number of people worked in the railways and had to work in these conditions and have subsequently been affected in this way."

Brigitte Chandler recently settled another case for a former fitter’s mate at British Rail, who, over a 12 year period, was exposed to excessive noise from morning to evening. He has developed mild deafness and British Rail agreed compensation of £3,000 plus, as with Mr Akers’ case, settlement of his legal costs.