A union member from Gateshead has been awarded substantial compensation for vibration white finger (VWF) in a GMB-backed court case against his employer.

An industrial illness, VWF affects the hand, wrist and arm due to excessive use of vibrating tools; the type of work equipment used almost daily by the member.

The joiner began experiencing the typical symptoms of VWF – including numbness and tingling in his fingers and hands – whilst at work.

“I was using various hammer drills and vibrating hand tools regularly at work. As I was driving home at the end of the day I started to notice my hands were feeling a bit numb,” said the GMB member.

“At the beginning, I just shook it off because the numbness would go away after a while. Then things started to get worse and I’d end up leaving work most days with numb hands and tingling fingers which bothered me well into the night.”

Despite reporting the symptoms to his employer during the annual vibration surveillance process for a number of years, his concerns were not taken seriously until he was finally advised to visit his doctor.

Industrial disease specialists Thompsons Solicitors

After being formally diagnosed, he contacted the GMB union for advice. The GMB legal service, with support from industrial disease specialists Thompsons Solicitors, pursued his claim.

His employers argued that his condition was not caused by work. The dispute led to the case going to trial where the judge accepted GMB's lawyer's case and found that the member’s employers were liable.

“I’m back at work now and am really careful about what tools I use to make sure the condition doesn’t flare up,” he said.

“My employers introduced a Traffic Light System a number of years earlier which gave guidance on how long we should spend using particular bits of vibrating kit. The problem was that by that time, I’d already spent years working with the drills, often under pressure to get work completed quickly so that targets could be met.

“I am pleased the judge at trial ruled in my favour and awarded me compensation but I’d rather have my health back,” he concluded.

The risks associated with using vibrating power tools have been well-known for decades

Commenting on the introduction of the vibration ‘Traffic Light System’, GMB Regional Secretary Billy Coates said:

“It’s a case of too little, too late for our member. The risks associated with using vibrating power tools have been well-known for decades. It is unacceptable that it took our member’s employer until 2008 to get a system in place telling workers which tools were safe to use for extended periods.

“His concerns should have been taken more seriously during the annual vibration surveillance activity. I hope that this case will make employers pay more attention to occupational health issues instead of chasing targets at the expense of workers’ health.”

Tony Scott from Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “The success of this case rested on proving the employers were responsible for causing my client’s medical condition. The support from GMB’s legal service ensured he received specialist legal advice in this complex area of industrial injury claim.”