A fitter who was forced to make a choice over protecting his ears or his eyes in the workplace has received almost £7000 in compensation after developing occupational deafness.

The 66-year-old from the Birmingham area is deaf in his left ear and suffers from tinnitus after he was exposed to excessive levels of noise while working for a factory for 40 years.

The Unite member worked for the firm, which makes parts for the petro chemical industry, from 1967 but despite being exposed to industrial noise wasn’t provided with hearing protection until the early 1990s. Even then the hearing protection was basic and its use wasn’t enforced until 2006.

The conditions in which they worked and the type of protection provided meant that until 2006 he and his colleagues had to choose between wearing protective glasses or ear muffs.

Diagnosed with hearing loss

The member chose to protect his eyes and as a result was exposed to excessive noise, has been diagnosed with hearing loss and he must now must wear a hearing aid.

He said: “During the early years of my work health and safety wasn’t a priority. Even when protective equipment was introduced in the 1990s its use wasn’t enforced. The working environment and the type of equipment we were provided with meant I had a choice between protecting my eyes or ears. I felt that my sight was more important and chose protective glasses over ear muffs.

“I’ve now paid the price of that decision with my hearing.”

Pursue a claim for compensation

Following his diagnosis he contacted his union, Unite, which instructed Thompsons Solicitors to pursue a claim for compensation.

Thompsons argued his employers should have both enforced hearing protection earlier and provided protection that could be worn with glasses.

Gerard Coyne Unite Regional Secretary said: “Our member should never have been put in a position where he was forced to make a decision about which part of his body to protect whilst at work. There was equipment easily available to the company that offered adequate protection for both his ears and eyes.”

John Mullen from Thompsons Solicitors said: “We deal with many cases of work related hearing loss but it is not often that we come across workers forced to choose what vital sense to sacrifice and what to save. That is as uncommon as it is unacceptable. Having been deafened by his employer we are pleased to have secured our client the compensation he deserves.”