Judge's RSI ruling scorned: Health and Safety Commission insists medical condition does exist. Barrie Clement reports

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The Independent Online
A FLOOD of claims for Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is expected from thousands of keyboard workers after senior Health and Safety Commission officials yesterday ridiculed a High Court judgment that the ailment did not exist.

Sir John Cullen, immediate past chairman of the commission, insisted that employees were genuinely suffering from RSI and that Judge John Prosser QC had no qualifications to pronounce on it. 'He was not speaking with any medical expertise or experience in the field,' he said.

Last month, Judge Prosser rejected a claim for damages against the Reuters News Agency. In doing so, he declared the term RSI was 'meaningless' and 'had no place in the medical dictionary'.

Speaking at the launch of the commission's annual report, Sir John said the commission preferred to use the term 'upper limb disorder' and would only use the term RSI in quotes, but undoubtedly there were injuries associated with the use of keyboards.

'We have no doubt it (RSI) exists and we believe there are things employers can do to minimise the outbreak of the condition,' Sir John said.

It is estimated by the HSC that there are 7 million screens in use in Britain's offices and that 4.5 million workers regularly use them.

Sir John, who relinquished the chairmanship of the commission two months ago, also said he regretted the Government's decision to make the job part-time. He said that Frank Davies, his successor, who works three days a week, would have 'some difficulty' in fulfilling all the functions. Mr Davies, however, replied that he had been 'getting about' in an attempt to learn about and publicise the work of the commission.

The annual report, which recorded the lowest number of deaths and accidents at work, attacked safety consultants and other companies for misleading employers to generate business.

John Rimington, director-general of the HSE, said some electrical contractors, for example, had said - without any justification - that it was necessary to test electrical plugs twice a year.

Some organisations had been quite 'unscrupulous' in their attempts to make profits out of fear of European legislation, he said.

The rate of fatal accidents last year was expected to amount to 1.3 per 100,000 employees - less than a quarter of the figure at the beginning of the 1960s. This is the third successive year in which the rate has fallen.

The incidence of major injuries has also shown a steady reduction to 81 per 100,000 employees. The improvements were attributed partly to changes in the structure of the economy, away from the old, very high risk heavy industries.

Mr Davies also welcomed the Government's move towards 'deregulation' of safety law. He said that the commission had to look for cost-effective methods.

But the Hazard Campaign, which is backed by unions, attacked the commission for failing to investigate major injuries. Campaign members, who picketed the London headquarters of the commission yesterday, pointed out that less than 40 per cent of workplace deaths resulted in any prosecution.