We acted on behalf of three male ASLEF members who worked out of the Carmarthen Depot as train drivers for Arriva Trains Wales. They were between 40- 50 years of age. They all drove the 140, 142, 150, 152 and 153 model locomotives along lines throughout South West Wales for several years before symptoms.
All three men developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Three drivers out of one depot of 50 drivers is an unusually high incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, where the incidence in the population as a whole is 0.5 per cent: over ten times higher than the national average.
All three men alleged that the symptoms had been caused by their repetitive work; adopting awkward wrist postures to operate the brake and power controls of the locomotive, and the cramped conditions and poor ergonomics within the cabs.
In particular, we alleged on their behalf:
- inadequate seats with little or no adjustment
- a lack of any suitable arm rests; the drivers rested their arms on the edge of a desk creating a risky posture
- generally cramped conditions within the cab with insufficient leg room, and increasingly longer turns at the controls
- repetitive and awkward deviations from extended wrist movements of the controls through the brake and power controllers
- increased use of the control levers (to satisfy the Professional Drivers Standards which was also being monitored by the On Train Monitoring Report system which required more use of controls to avoid wear and tear caused by extreme braking)
- a breach of Regulation 4 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 as to the suitability of equipment
- breaches of Regulation 8 and 9 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations as to information and training for train drivers about the risk of injury in these positions.
We obtained supportive medical evidence from the rheumatologist Michael Pritchard ;linking the carpal tunnel syndrome to their work as train drivers on these model trains and on these routes. The three claimants all underwent a successful carpal tunnel release operation.
We also obtained supportive evidence from the Ergonomist Stirling Hinkley, who confirmed that the job was repetitive within HSE “danger” guidelines and that the repetition and awkward wrist movements did give rise to a foreseeable risk of injury.
In effect, the drivers were extending their arms fully and deviating the wrist to both sides on regular occasions.
Mr Hinkley also condemned the ergonomics of the cab. He confirmed that simple and inexpensive remedies such as providing proper adjustable seats with arm rests would significantly reduce the risks of injury.
Liability and causation for the injuries were denied by Arriva. They obtained their own medical evidence from a rheumatologist Dr Williams and a report from an engineer, Mr Jackson.
The defendant did not disclose any pre or post injury risk assessments. They did not even risk assess the cabs or the work processes by the time of the trial, even after the claims had been intimated. They said the risk of injury was so minimal as not to trigger risk assessments and what risk there was arose from the individual habits of drivers rather than the work set-up.
The trial took place on 18 May 2009 and was concluded in five days.
The trial Judge even went to visit and inspect the cabs on a 153 unit and for comparison purposes a 175 unit (the 175 unit is much newer and much more spacious and modern and was designed around the driver). The trial Judge was clearly struck by the lack of space in the 153 Units and said he understood why some drivers would stand to drive such was the lack of leg room beneath the desk.
His Honour Judge Vosper found as follows:
- Each of the claimants had proved that they suffered with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- That the CTS was work related: the fact it had taken years to develop was not indicative of a lack of causation as in this context years of work would fatigue the muscles.
- That the defendant failed in its duty of care towards each of the claimants in failing to risk assess the work system. A risk assessment was the crucial pre-requisite to assessing whether the work was being done in a suitable way and place as required under Reg 4 PUWER 1998 (citing the House of Lords in Robb -v- Salamis) Any such assessment should have identified the short comings in the ergonomic conditions of the cab and observed the individual habits of drivers which gave rise to risk of injury.There was then a failure to take even the most modest of measures to prevent or significantly reduce the risk of injury to the drivers (ie fit and maintain adequate seating and arm rests)
- There was a relevant failure to inform and train the drivers in breach of Regulations 8 and 9 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, citing LJ Smith in Allison on the need to observe and then train and inform each train driver at their work station.
Incidentally, all claimants had developed a further compartmental syndrome after surgery which they attributed to their work. His Honour Judge Vosper found that there was not a significant body of medical opinion which yet supported the diagnosis of compartment syndrome in upper limbs.
Thomas, Studholme and Rogan v Arriva, Swansea County Court, His Honour Judge Vosper QC
30th November 2009