MoD Must Do More To Protect Servicemen From Hearing Damage

Law Firm Sees Rising Number of Enquiries

20.06.2011

Law firm Irwin Mitchell is urging the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to ensure servicemen are given adequate hearing protection while operating weapons or machinery, after the firm saw the number of enquiries to its specialist Armed Forces team double in the last year.

Many of these soldiers complained they were not provided with the hearing protection they need for working in loud environments, including Liam Bell, 20, who suffered severe hearing damage during a training exercise at Catterick Garrison.

Mr Bell, from Morecambe, who was serving with the 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was taking part in an exercise which involved grenades and firing light machine guns, but he was only given one earplug by his Section Commander – leaving his other ear unprotected.

Because he was a new recruit Mr Bell wasn’t aware of the dangers, and when the regiment opened fire he suffered damage to his unprotected ear. He has now been left with the hearing level of an 80-year-old, and even has to sleep with the television on to block out a buzzing noise he hears constantly.

Nick Woods, an industrial disease expert in Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Armed Forces team, is calling for the MoD to take action to ensure all military personnel are given earplugs when they are exposed to high-volume situations.

He said: “Irwin Mitchell acts for an increasing number of Armed Forces personnel who have developed problems with their hearing, and over the last 12 months this figure has more than doubled.

“Our team now receives around 10 new enquiries every month from service personnel who have been deafened during service, and many of these servicemen sustain the damage because they were not given the necessary hearing protection by the MoD.

“It seems completely unfair that, in this day and age, young men and women who are prepared to put their lives on the line for their country are being injured because they are not being provided with basic protective equipment. The MoD must take every step to prevent this and ensure anyone who is working in a high-volume environment is provided with proper protection.”

Before the training exercise began, Mr Bell’s Section Commander instructed him to put the earplug into his right ear, leaving his left ear unprotected. When the regiment opened fire Mr Bell’s left ear bore the brunt of the noise exposure, causing him to develop immediate hearing problems.

The damage means Mr Bell now suffers from tinnitus – a condition which leaves victims hearing noises in their head when there is no external noise present.

Mr Bell said: “I was quite surprised when my Section Commander asked me to take part in the exercise with just one earplug, but because I was a new recruit I just did as I was told. I wasn’t aware of the dangers it posed.

“The exercise involved a comrade throwing a grenade over the trench, and when it landed we all stood up to open fire with light machine guns at various targets. As soon as we opened fire the noise became unbearable and instantly I knew it had affected my hearing.

“I now struggle to hear people in conversation, and this can be embarrassing as I often have to ask people to repeat themselves over and over again. It is a particular problem when I am somewhere quiet or I am trying to sleep, and I usually now sleep with the television on as a distraction to the buzzing noise in my ear.”

Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Armed Forces team secured an out of court settlement of £40,000 for Mr Bell. This will cover the cost of his counselling, lost earnings, hearing aids and a tinnitus masking device – which plays soothing natural sounds to counteract his symptoms.

Nick Woods added: “We are pleased to have been able to recover such a significant sum for Mr Bell, but the sad reality is that it does nothing to put his quality of life back to before the injury.

“He is now unable to work in the Army, and as a 20 year old man he will now have to live with hearing loss and tinnitus for the rest of his life.

“More must be done to protect people like Mr Bell. The MoD must ensure servicemen are provided with the necessary protective equipment. It is totally unacceptable for people to have their lives and careers ruined over a lack of earplugs.”

If you or a loved one has suffered from hearing damage such as acoustic shock, tinnitus, and noise-induced hearing loss caused by conditions at work our solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Industrial Disease Claims page for more information.