A rail conductor left with a permanent back injury caused by improperly maintained equipment has received a £20,000 compensation settlement from his employer – Northern Rail – with the support of the RMT.

Andrew Madden from Pontefract in West Yorkshire had locked the doors on a passenger train leaving a station in September 2009 when his key became jammed in the lock. When the key unexpectedly released he fell backwards and badly twisted his back.

The 59-year-old visited A&E in agony on two occasions the day after the accident and prescribed pain relief but was rushed into hospital three days later when his legs suddenly gave way causing him to fall down the stairs at home, fracturing his wrist and injuring his shoulder.

He needed emergency surgery to his back

It was discovered that his legs gave way because of a shattered disc in his back which had been caused by the fall at work. Andrew ended up undergoing emergency surgery to his back and having a metal pin inserted in his wrist and being off work for 10 months.

As a member of the RMT for more than 11 years, Andrew saw an advert for Thompsons Solicitors within the RMT’s magazine, which prompted him to contact his union to see if they would support his claim for compensation.

Andrew said: “Following my operation, I had to move in with my elderly parents as I needed help with the most basic of tasks. We had to convert their dining room into a makeshift bedroom for me, as I was unable to use the stairs for about four months.

“While my employer was supportive by allowing me to gradually return to full time hours, it took some two years for me to completely recover. Frustratingly, the problem with keys sticking because of poor maintenance was well known. By simply ensuring the locks were maintained, my accident could have been prevented and I wouldn’t have had to suffer for so long as a result.”

Andrew’s injuries could have been avoided

A spokesperson from the RMT said: “There was general awareness among the staff that there was a problem with the locks and management had been repeatedly told. 128 locks have now been replaced but it took a debilitating accident to finally make Northern Rail sit up and get on with it.

“New locks are welcome but the underlying issue is having proper maintenance procedures in place. Andrew’s injuries could have been avoided altogether, like the majority of workplace injuries, if there had been proper procedures in place.”

Joanne Law from Thompsons Solicitors said: “Northern Rail sought to argue all the way against our case that the sticking key injured the back which caused the fall down the stairs at home. Despite denying liability throughout the proceedings, the medical evidence proved that while Andrew may have had a pre-existing back problem the accident accelerated this by three to four years and also resulted in the subsequent damage to his wrist and shoulder.

“The considerable settlement we were able to secure lays the blame for two serious injuries and on-going symptoms entirely at Northern Rail’s door.”