Our client, Michael Birks, started working for TATA Steel in Rotherham as a Temp Operative in 2010 and took up a permanent role as a Ladleman a year later. In 2013, he began to experience symptoms in his right hand, including pins and needles, usually when he was driving long distances or gripping cutlery hard.
Since the symptoms would disappear in a few seconds, he never gave them much thought and didn’t see a doctor. In December 2013, he was assessed for Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) by an occupational health advisor.
Mr Birks mentioned the pins and needles he’d experienced, but only because he was specifically asked about it, and he insisted they weren’t problematic. The occupational health advisor was satisfied he didn’t have HAVS and suggested the pins and needles may be due to an old fracture. He was therefore passed as fit to work with vibrating tools and carried on using them as before.
In January 2015, Mr Birks underwent another HAVS assessment, and again reported his pins and needles and was told everything was normal. However, following this assessment, his symptoms started to get rapidly worse, and he began struggling with gripping and lifting with his right hand, and started getting pins and needles at night.
During this period, Mr Birks was no longer allowed to operate overhead cranes at work due to medication he was taking at the time, and therefore he did a lot more work using vibrating equipment. But after using the vibrating tools for a few minutes, he would experience weakness and pain in his right hand, and he therefore started using his left hand a lot more when using the equipment. The symptoms in his right hand subsequently got worse and started up in his left hand.
Mr Birks hadn’t gone to the GP before as the pins and needles hadn’t been a problem, but in April 2015, the symptoms had got so much worse that he decided to see his doctor. The GP and hospital later confirmed he had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in both hands, but much worse on the right, so he had surgery on his right wrist in October 2015.
Doctors suggested that his Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may have been related to his work, and this was the first time he made the connection between the symptoms he was experiencing and his job. Following the surgery, Mr Birks went back to work on light duties, but it wasn’t long before he was back using the vibrating tools again as before.
He left TATA Steel in early 2016 and since leaving, his symptoms have improved massively. He hardly has any symptoms in his left hand and therefore hasn’t needed a further operation. It was after leaving the company that he decided to claim compensation for an industrial illness.
Mr Birks contacted our team of Industrial Disease Solicitors for help with claiming compensation. His case was taken on by Senior Associate Solicitor Anthony Waddington, who arranged medical reports into his condition and a report from an engineer assessing the levels of vibration he was exposed to.
Anthony established that while Mr Birks had received training in how to do his job, this was mainly practical training showing him how to physically perform certain tasks, including using vibrating tools.
However, he hadn’t been given any information on how long he should use the tools for, or advised that he should take regular breaks from using them, and that the length of time he was using them should be recorded.
Our client informed us that while TATA Steel produced a log purporting to show tool usage in the Ladle Bay between 2014 and 2017, he’d never filled in or seen such a sheet. Mr Birks also advised us that a number of his colleagues who used the vibrating tools daily alongside Mr Birks didn’t have their initials on the log either.
It was his understanding that the vibrating tools they used were supposed to have tags on them advising that they had been checked to make sure they were working and maintained properly. None of the tools he used ever had red tags, which would indicate they needed to be checked, whereas photographic evidence showed the tools were old and hadn’t been changed for many years.
Mr Birks therefore believed they hadn’t been checked or maintained properly, and that no consideration was ever given to providing staff with modern tools that vibrated less.
Our case also reflected the financial impact on Mr Birks, as he lost income as a result of having Carpal Tunnel Release surgery in late 2016 and subsequently needed time off work to recover. During this time, he was unable to use his right hand properly and therefore relied on help from his mother with tasks such as cooking, cleaning and shopping, which was unpaid. Mr Birks also racked up extra costs by making several visits to the hospital.
Mr Birks believes he is now at a disadvantage compared to his peers, as our medical report concluded that if he uses vibrating tools or does repetitive heavy work again, his Carpal Tunnel Syndrome could return. As a result, many potential job options have now been closed off to him.
TATA Steel denied liability (fault) and fought the case, which meant it had to be resolved in Court. However, TATA Steel agreed to settle the case a few weeks before the Trial.
TATA Steel offered to pay £10,000 in compensation, which was accepted by our client.
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