Turkey factory workers win RSI damages: Compensation awarded in test cases against poultry firm could have impact across manufacturing industry. Martin Whitfield reports

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The Independent Online
SIX poultry processing workers won compensation claims for repetitive strain injury yesterday in a judgment which could have an impact across manufacturing industry.

Awards of between pounds 644 and pounds 5,949 were made at Norwich County Court against Bernard Matthews, the turkey products producer, although three other cases were dismissed on medical evidence.

Peter Medhurst, district officer for the Transport and General Workers' Union, which supported the case, said a further 72 claims were outstanding at Bernard Matthews with more at other poultry processors in East Anglia. 'These are test cases and represent only the beginning. The production techniques which are contributing to the spread of RSI must be re-examined throughout the poultry industry,' he added.

The verdict followed a three-week hearing and Judge David Mellor criticised the rotation system for repetitive tasks and staff training given at two of the company's factories.

Tom Jones, of Brian Thompson, the union's solicitors, said earlier RSI cases had shown that employees should be warned of the risks. 'This result is the first of a 'second wave' showing that employers cannot simply warn and then sit back thinking they are safe from injury claims.'

A large number of RSI claims relate to the use of computer keyboards, with the Health and Safety Commission estimating that more than 100,000 people suffer from some form of work-related upper limb disorder.

Joy Mounteney, 47, who was awarded pounds 5,949 for her injuries, damaged her right wrist as soon as she was placed on the 'gutting' line at Bernard Matthews's factory at Holton, near Halesworth, Suffolk.

'Working on the line is bad. It is a revolting job. Two-thirds of the workers had problems with their wrists. We are talking about blood and guts. You have got to wear wellingtons, rubber gloves and apron. It is cold, wet, and noisy and it stinks like hell.'

She said she stuck with the job because at the time she was a single mother with two teenage children.

In a statement Bernard Matthews said it took the matter seriously and never underestimated the risk to employees. It was not unusual for people starting intensively manual jobs to experience 'aches and pains', but only 'a very small minority' developed repetitive strain injury, it claimed.

(Photograph omitted)