A welder whose hands have been left permanently damaged by using vibrating tools at work for more than 36 years has lost half of his compensation because his employers no longer exist and there is no trace of who their insurers were during 50% of his exposure to vibrating tools.

Now Unite the union and its lawyers Thompsons Solicitors are demanding that the Government acts now to set up an Employer’s Liability Bureau (ELIB) to stop insurers getting away with not paying out on their policies.

The 56-year-old, from Swansea was diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome after he was exposed to excessive levels of vibrating tools during 36 years working for Raymond Joseph Engineering Ltd, Innotech Wales Ltd and Bartondale Engineering Company Limited, as a fabricator welder at the same site in Port Talbot from 1971 to 2007.

Conditions caused by hand-held vibrating power tools

The two conditions are permanent and cause immense pain and discomfort and are caused by hand-held vibrating power tools.

The welder has had surgery on his arms but his symptoms persist.

Following his diagnosis he contacted Unite which instructed Thompsons Solicitors to investigate a claim for compensation.

Thompsons discovered that both Bartondale Engineering Company and Innotech Wales were dissolved and Raymond Joseph Engineering was in voluntary liquidation meaning extensive investigations needed to be made to trace the companies’ insurers.

Campaign for ELIB

Currently anyone who cannot trace the insurer of an employer which has gone out of business is unable to obtain compensation.

For this welder insurance cover could only be found for 50% of his employment meaning he will receive only £9,000 of his compensation.

Thompsons and Unite have been campaigning for an ELIB which will act as a fund of last resort to compensate injured workers where the employer has ceased trading and the insurer can’t be found.

It would mean insurers would pay into a fund which would compensate those who cannot trace their employer’s insurers.

Compensation fund of last resort

The last Government consulted on creating an ELIB which would be a compensation fund of last resort modelled on the Motor Insurance Bureau. The current Government has yet to respond to that consultation although employment minister Chris Grayling told the House of Commons in February that his department was “in active discussions with all stakeholders on how this situation can be addressed and we will bring forward proposals in due course”.

The Unite member said: “I had no idea that my work was causing me to suffer from these conditions and it was only when I changed jobs I realised just how bad the health and safety had been with my previous employers. My life has been changed forever by the failure of my employers to protect me from injury and there will come a time when I will be unable to work at all.

“Those employers had insurance and its only right that the insurers who happily collected the premiums pay out on those policies. An ELIB funded by insurers would ensure that people like me don’t lose the compensation that is rightfully theirs. No one asks to be left with permanent disabilities or diseases caused by their work. I don’t understand why the Government doesn’t get on with doing something positive to sort this out.”

Insurers have got away with not paying out on some policies for long enough

Andy Richards UNITE Wales Regional Secretary added: “This is all too common a predicament for our members who work in industries where businesses come and go and insurance records as a result are lost or destroyed. An ELIB is the only answer to ensure that those who suffer a workplace injury, through no fault of their own, receive the compensation they are entitled to.”

Petra Williams from Thompsons Solicitors said: “The current Government has been almost silent on the outcome of the ELIB consultation. If they are consulting with stakeholders then we see no sign of it. Insurers have got away with not paying out on some policies for long enough and an ELIB funded by a levy on the insurance industry is the obvious way to remedy this.”