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Symptoms of injuries caused by hazardous workplace environments often take many years to develop – but one case involving a steam age railwayman who suffered industrial deafness shows that it may never be too late to claim compensation.
After leaving school at 14, the man worked on and off as a fireman on the footplate of steam locomotives for nine years until 1966. The last scheduled passenger steam train travelled from Liverpool Street to Carlisle in 1968 and the man was a member of the last generation to work on the Victorian railway.
His later years were blighted by deafness and he said that the trains were so noisy that he had to shout to be heard by colleagues standing just two feet away. More than 45 years after he last worked on a steam locomotive, lawyers acting on his behalf launched a damages claim against the Department for Transport (DfT) as successors to his former employer, British Rail.
The man sadly died, aged 72, before his case could be heard, but his son pursued his claim on behalf of his estate. The court found that British Rail had known of the relevant risk of hearing loss from 1961 or 1962 onwards but had been negligent in failing to do enough to warn its footplate workers of the hazard.
Arguments that the claim had been brought too late were rejected on the basis that the man had only made the link between his deafness and his work on the railways late in life. The court valued his overall claim at £6,000 but found that British Rail bore only a modest proportion of liability for his loss. The DfT was ordered to pay £476 in damages and the legal costs of the case.
Health and safety information on noise in the workplace is available from the Health and Safety Executive.