A disabled RMT member whose damaged back was aggravated after his employer refused to make adjustments to his work environment has won his case for disability discrimination.

Manchester Employment Tribunal found that Andrew Russell, 38, from Morecambe was discriminated against when his employer Heysham Port Ltd refused to allocate new equipment to him.

Mr Russell was a general operative at the port where for 90% of his time and for up to four hours at a time he used a machine called a tugmaster to unload vehicles off vessels.

Mr Russell had back problems from 2006 and was off work with back pain from November 2008 until January 2009.

On returning to work in January 2009 Mr Russell asked to be allocated with one of 14 new tugmasters which had better suspension and enabled the driver to move more easily. He explained that the older tugmaster (of which there were 16) was causing further damage to his back.

The Port’s response was that the vehicles were allocated on a first come first served basis and they wouldn’t change the system saying it would be unfair for the other employees.

Mr Russell ended up having to take three months off work in 2009 because of back pain and work related stress. In September 2009, the Port finally agreed to allow Mr Russell to drive a new tugmaster.

Following the time off he contacted his trade union the RMT which instructed Thompsons Solicitors to fight Mr Russell’s case at Employment Tribunal.

The Tribunal agreed that Mr Russell had a disability and was discriminated against. It ordered Heysham Port to pay £6,000 in damages to Mr Russell.

Mr Russell said: “I’ve suffered from back problems for a while and whilst I try to live as normal a life as possible my employers knew all about my disability and it was obvious the old tugmasters were aggravating my problem. I wanted a new tugmaster because they had better suspension and being able to turn the seat around meant I didn’t have to twist which would have avoided me having more time off.

“I ended up having to go to tribunal to get the Port to listen to its disabled employees’ in the future.”

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT said: “Our member was forced to work with machinery which was aggravating his disability. His employer could easily, with a little flexibility, have made adjustments and saved him further time off work. Whilst it is an indictment of the Port that he had to fight his case at an employment tribunal he has stood up for his employment rights and woken the employers up to their duties to disabled staff.”

Rachel Halliday from Thompsons Solicitors said: “Employers have a duty to look after their employees’ health and safety at work. Where a working practice places a disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage the employer should make reasonable adjustments to improve the situation. Heysham Port conceded at the Tribunal that it could have taken steps to alleviate the disadvantage suffered by Mr Russell very easily and at little or no cost. If the Port had taken these steps promptly, instead of delaying for nearly 8 months, then a Tribunal claim would have been avoided.”