Blacksmith wins pounds 10,000 for RSI

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The Independent Online
A MUSEUM'S attempts to recreate the sweat, toil and tears of 19th century rural life landed curators with state-of-the-art legal action under health and safety law.

The Museum of Welsh Life yesterday agreed a pounds 10,000 out-of-court settlement with a blacksmith who was made to work makeshift hand-operated bellows as part of management's commitment to authenticity.

David Herbert worked at the museum in St Fagans, south Wales, as a blacksmith for nearly two years and developed tennis elbow because of the arduous nature of the work.

Mr Herbert, 43, pleaded with managers to install electrical equipment after suffering pain for prolonged periods, but they refused. He now needs surgery before he can return to work.

Barry Reamsbottom, joint general secretary of the PCS civil service union which took up Mr Herbert's case, said the manager refused to act on a reasonable request and ended up causing him serious injury.

"I understand the need for authenticity, but is the museum really saying to visitors: `Come along and see life as it was and witness in the flesh the genuine suffering of the workers'?" Mr Reamsbottom said.

"You wouldn't send 12-year-olds underground just to recreate the hell which existed in the old mining industry. I hope this settlement will be a lesson to employers to make sure they take their staff's health and safety seriously."

Mr Reamsbottom said the museum had failed to carry out a proper risk assessment in breach of health and safety regulations. Mr Herbert said he was delighted with the settlement.

"But I am saddened that my employers did not act sooner to make sure I did not suffer these injuries," he added. The blacksmith said that he learned his craft at Penallta colliery, Hengoed, Mid Glamorgan. "I have been a blacksmith for 25 years. I was in the pits for 10 years and I never had a problem with health and safety. I thought it would get better because I was not working, but it hasn't. Now I need an operation," Mr Herbert said.

"The bellows I was asked to work were not genuine. The equipment was a reproduction and they didn't work properly. Other blacksmiths before me had suffered problems with them.

"Although it was a two-year contract I was told that I virtually had a job for life. When I developed this problem, that was the end of me. My contract was not renewed."

Mr Herbert, who specialises in ironwork rather than dealing with horses, now hopes to set up in business on his own.