Power-tool workers win £1.2m

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The Independent Online

A massive compensation pay-out for victims of the crippling illness known as vibration white finger (VWF) was hailed as a victory for workers yesterday.

A massive compensation pay-out for victims of the crippling illness known as vibration white finger (VWF) was hailed as a victory for workers yesterday.

North West Water has agreed to pay £1.2m to eight former employees who contracted the illness. It is caused by prolonged exposure to vibrating power tools, and leaves many victims unable to do simple things such as button a shirt or pick up a cup.

The men, all from Merseyside, were suspended from duties in 1998 when they developed symptoms of VWF, which include constant pain, loss of grip and bleeding hands. Eighteen months later, North West Water says, the men retired on grounds of ill health.

Brian Strutton, the GMB union's utilities spokesman, said: "This is a victory for working people. Last year North West Water made profits in excess of £300m and this award is justice for those workers who helped to generate those profits, only to be repaid by crippling injury as a result of North West Water's negligence.

"Those who complain about the so-called 'compensation culture' should recognise that the only protection ordinary workers have against negligence and exploitation is the ability to hit companies where it hurts most - in their profits."

The GMB said that, during legal proceedings, North West Water admitted negligence in exposing the workers to excessive vibration while they operated machinery. But the company disputed claims by the GMB that the men were not offered alternative employment.

A spokesman said the men were offered retraining as part of a redeployment scheme. "The union would not endorse the scheme and were keen instead to progress medical retirement for those people affected," he said.

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