A trade union is warning members who are injured in workplace accidents not to accept offers of compensation from their employers or insurance companies without taking independent legal advice.

Factory worker Shaun Powell, whose foot was crushed by a huge metal beam while working for Joseph Ash Chesterfield Ltd, was called into work by a senior manager and offered just £1,700 in compensation by the employer’s insurers Garwyns. Now he has received more than £122,000 in damages with the support of the GMB’s legal service and the union’s lawyers Thompsons Solicitors.

Mr Powell, 43, from Chesterfield has been unable to return to work since the red hot 10m long, 1.25 tonne steel beam landed on his left ankle in 2008.

Foot was badly burnt and broken

His foot was so badly burnt and broken he needed a skin graft and suffered from chronic pain syndrome, which means he needs regular injections to control the pain.

He also suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks.

He and a colleague were galvanising the beam and had been told by bosses to place it on haunches on uneven ground. The beam toppled over onto Mr Powell’s leg.

Just six weeks after the accident he was rung by the senior manager and asked to attend a meeting to discuss the accident. He agreed to go into the office where the representative from Garwyns offered him just over £1,700 to cover his time off and injuries.

Thompsons Solicitors made claim for compensation

Mr Powell asked the GMB for help and was referred to Thompsons which advised him not to accept the offer. Over the coming months Thompsons obtained expert medical reports and the true extent of the psychological damage the accident had had on Mr Powell became apparent.

He was made redundant due to unrelated matters and was unable to find another job due to his physical injuries and the affects of suffering from PTSD.

Thompsons commenced legal action against Joseph Ash when they denied any responsibility and settled the claim for £122,000 shortly before trial.

Mr Powell said: “I was called into work to discuss my accident and the next thing I knew they were offering me compensation to cover the time I’d had off work. I thought it was a good offer and was ready to settle it. I had no idea that my injuries would cause me to be out of work for so long. Fortunately I asked the GMB and Thompsons for advice otherwise I’d be unemployed now and the £1,700 they offered would be long gone. “

Employers and insurers attempting to take advantage of employee’s vulnerability

Tim Roache regional secretary at the GMB said: “Mr Powell was left with extensive injuries which have had a huge impact on his employability. His former employers and their insurers were like vultures swooping in to make an offer of compensation before he’d had a chance to assess the full impact of the accident in order to avoid their liabilities.

“GMB members are entitled to free legal advice and it is in situations like these when the expertise of our legal experts is invaluable. We’d advise all our members to ensure they get independent legal advice if they suffer an accident at work.”

Jeremy Hague from Thompsons Solicitors said: “This is the worst case I’ve seen of employers and their insurers attempting to take advantage of their employee’s vulnerability. It’s a return to the bad old days when insurers had offices in factory car parks and injured workers would be sent to them for a pay off if nothing more was said.

“Mr Powell was approached by his employer when he was still in shock over his very serious accident. He wasn’t advised to seek independent advice but was being told by those with vested interests to accept an appalling low level of damages.”