Employers face wave of RSI claims: Record award for keyboard injury opens door for 'thousands' of settlements. Barrie Clement reports

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The Independent Online
EMPLOYERS yesterday faced multi-million pound compensation claims from staff using keyboards after a typist won a record pounds 79,000 for repetitive strain injury (RSI).

The out-of-court settlement in favour of an Inland Revenue employee outstrips the previous highest payment of pounds 59,000 in a similar case.

Union lawyers say there are 150 more Inland Revenue claims in the pipeline and 'thousands' more from among the 4 million workers who regularly use keyboards. The award came in the wake of a judgment three months ago by Judge Prosser in the High Court which stated that the ailment had 'no place in the medical dictionaries'.

Kathleen Harris, 47, who worked for the Inland Revenue for 15 years and earned pounds 11,000 a year as a typist, is now registered as disabled.

Before she retired from a west London tax office through ill-health last summer, she was expected to average about four key strokes a second, according to the Inland Revenue Staff Federation. She worked a seven-and-a-half hour day, with just half an hour off for lunch and no other breaks. Her legal representatives said the injury was equally the result of a bad working environment as much as the speed of operation.

Mrs Harris was now in permanent pain from the injury in her right arm which had been diagnosed as lateral epicondylitis, or a form of tennis elbow. She could no longer type or perform routine domestic duties such as ironing, vacuum cleaning or lifting shopping bags, and found that her sleep was constantly interrupted.

Clive Brooke, general secretary of the federation, said the settlement sent an important message to all employers. There was a growing army of RSI sufferers, mainly women in lower-paid jobs. In typing pools, there was a tendency for managers to 'crack whips' in attempts to improve productivity.

In reference to Judge Prosser's remarks, he said: 'Many will have been depressed by the remarks, but this settlement is a strong rebuttal of the mistaken view that RSI is just something in the mind. The judge is out of touch with the pain people are suffering.'

The Inland Revenue said it had been prepared to settle before the case presided over by Judge Prosser. 'We were simply ironing out the details,' a spokeswoman said, and the compensation was largely for loss of future earnings. Management had put in considerable effort to educate staff and managers on the issue. Other cases would be treated on their own merits.

Simon Allen, of the union's solicitors Russell, Jones and Walker, said Mrs Harris's case proved that compensation could be won provided the medical evidence was 'clear and precise'. A TUC analysis last month showed that unions had won pounds 118,000 for sufferers of RSI in November and December, despite the judge's controversial ruling.

An expert in industrial health and safety said last night the settlement would relight some of the cases which had been 'doused' after Judge Prosser's remarks.

Dr Peter Buckle, head of ergonomics at the University of Surrey, said there had been a series of out-of-court settlements since October but many were conditional on no publicity.

He urged employers to start spending more on preventative measures rather than having to pay out large sums in compensation.

(Photograph omitted)

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