Gas workers win record damages

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BRITISH GAS faces a bill for more than pounds 430,000 after a court yesterday awarded record damages to six gas fitters suffering from the industrial injury of vibration white finger.

The awards range from pounds 15,000 to pounds 143,374 - the highest single amount ever given in compensation for the injury, which is caused by long-term use of vibrating machinery.

The GMB general union, which represented the six workers in yesterday's case, said the awards paved the way for 42 other workers to win compensation which could run into millions of pounds.

Giving a reserved judgment at Manchester County Court, Judge Ensor said British Gas should have been aware of the risks from vibrating tools between 1967 and 1975. But the company failed to recognise that the workers - all from the North-west - had a problem until 1980, causing "permanent disability".

John Edmonds, GMB general secretary, criticised British Gas for defending the compensation claims in court and for failing to protect its workers. He added: "People talk blithely about the post-industrial age, but in every sector of commercial activity workers needlessly suffer injury and contract preventable diseases."

The six men, three of whom still work for British Gas, were: Gary Hall, 42, from Oldham,who received pounds 72,853 compensation; Steven Davies, 36, Merseyside (pounds 72,050); Roy Leyland, 49, Merseyside,(pounds 22,500); William Earle, 52, Merseyside (pounds 15,000); Christopher Bonney, 34, Blackpool (pounds 143,474); and Peter English, 39, Merseyside (pounds 107,861).

The judge said he was satisfied that the six were entitled to recover damages for the injuries to their hands and their consequent losses. British Gas failed to properly measure tools for vibration, training was inadequate and warnings insufficient.

The judge said: "The result has been that employees have become exposed to excessive vibration."

The condition known as vibration white finger can damage blood vessels and nerves in the fingers, leading to a permanent loss of feeling and even the inability to grip.

A British Gas spokesman said: "We have only just received the judgment which we will study before deciding what action to take."