News of the successful cases are of considerable significance both to industry, which could be faced with massive costs, and to the estimated four million workers who regularly use computer terminals.
Legal experts and Health and Safety Executive officials believe RSI could become the 'new pneumoconiosis' - the respiratory illness which afflicted thousands of miners in the heyday of the coalfields and was the biggest single industrial disease. Despite Judge John Prosser's assertion on 28 October that RSI had 'no place in the medical dictionary', unions won more than pounds 100,000 for their members in October and November.
An annual survey of all legal awards won by unions for their members, published today, also reveals that last year compensation worth pounds 310m was received after cases involving 123,000 workers. The compensation figure was approximately pounds 29m up on the previous year despite a steep decline in union membership. The awards largely covered personal injury at work, but other cases included employment protection, criminal injury, road traffic accidents, copyright and libel. Potentially the most costly industrial injury of all time, however, is RSI, because of the numbers of people who now use screens.
The Trades Union Congress has decided to mount a legal offensive in the new year to win awards for those already suffering from the disorder and to ensure that companies provide the best possible working conditions for employees using terminals.
John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, believes that tens of thousands of employees daily face pain because of such disorders. 'In severe cases, people have permanent injuries and some cannot work again.' The Health and Safety Executive, which has registered its fundamental disagreement with the opinions of Judge John Prosser, calculate that half a million working days are lost every year through RSI and similar complaints.
The TUC's new year campaign, 'Don't Suffer in Silence', urges workers to seek union help to win redress. Dick Pickering, a senior member of the TUC's general council, urged managers to assess the risk of their workers developing RSI or face the possibility of court proceedings.
Workers in the Civil Service, engineering industry, newspapers and banks have received compensation since Judge John Prosser ruled against a case brought by the National Union of Journalists on behalf of Rafiq Mughal, who worked as a sub- editor at the Reuters news agency.