On October 18 at Canterbury Crown Court, Thanet Council admitted breaches of health and safety rules in relation to up to 40 workers suffering from vibration white finger, also known as hand arm vibration syndrome.
“The condition is well known amongst various building, maintenance, manufacturing and mining / extraction industries, so it is surprising and disappointing that Thanet Council seem to have done little to protect their work force,” says Neille Ryan, Partner and Head of Personal Injury at leading Kent law firm Furley Page.
Vibration white finger is a condition involving damage to nerves and blood vessels in the fingers, common amongst those who operate vibrating power tools for prolonged periods in their job. Symptoms to the fingers include whitening or discolouration; tingling, loss of sensation; coldness and aching.
Neille says: “A compensation scheme (now sadly closed) was established for former miners, hundreds of whom were represented by me back in the noughties. Furley Page has a long track record of helping workers who have suffered illness or injury due to working conditions or accidents.
“In fact, we represented the very first successful chronic bronchitis / emphysema claimant against British Coal, Jackie Tanner of Aylesham, Kent. That claim was successful in the Court of Appeal in 1991. This was followed by eight test cases, judgment was given on 28 January 1998 and led to the Miners' Compensation Scheme coming into operation in 1999.”
Neille says the link between percussive or pneumatic hand held tools and white finger has been recognised since about the mid-1970s and employers are obliged to operate various safety measures such as:
Neille says: “It is the responsibility of employers to provide appropriate safety measures and adequate training for anyone operating such equipment. But many workers who feel they have suffered injury as a result of their work are reluctant to come forward.
“I hope that anyone suffering from the condition is not put off by the ‘compensation culture’ spin propagated by the government and the insurance industry.
“This is a very unpleasant condition. If you have vibration white finger then it is unlikely to get better. You will probably have to put up with it for the rest of your life. It can be very debilitating, affecting your ability to perform everyday tasks with your hands and is something for which you may be entitled to compensation.”
There is no known cure for vibration white finger and if a victim has to give up work or change jobs, they could suffer the added insult of a substantial loss of earnings on top of their pain and suffering, Neille points out.
“If would urge anyone thinking of claiming to go to a solicitor who actually knows something about the condition,” says Neille. “Our work with the Kent miners has taught us that such cases can be hard to prove and therefore difficult to win so experience in the field is key to obtaining the right result for the client.”
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