A Guardian Newspapers night editor who was refused access to the company physiotherapist after developing crippling elbow pain and who was eventually forced to leave the paper because only unsuitable, lower paid work was offered, has been paid £37, 500 damages.

Andrea Osbourne, who had been a casual at the paper for two and a half years, worked almost exclusively using a mouse, at speed, for an average nine hours a night, and up to 45 hours a week, without a break. No risk assessment was carried out when she started the job in February 2001.

By May 2002 she had developed stiffness and pain in her right elbow. Soon she was unable even to lift a kettle. Her GP diagnosed repetitive strain injury, gave her a cortisone injection and told her the waiting list for NHS physio was so long she should seek help from her employer. The Guardian’s HR department refused.

Andrea carried on working because the injection had eased the pain. Another request to see the company physio was refused as she was told the facility was only available to permanent members of staff, not to casuals. The HR department advised that the pain was caused by a neck problem and was nothing to do with the mouse. Even The Guardian’s own medical report stated that her condition would not have developed had it not have been for her work.

The pain returned in early 2003 and was so intense that Andrea was unable to bend her elbow. The pain eased during the day but finally, in March 2003, it had become constant and she was unable to continue working. She was told by a hospital consultant that she would never be able to do that type of work again and was advised to seek an alternative career.

She was unable to work and suffered financial difficulties. Gradually, following nine months or rest and physio, the movement returned in her right elbow and she eventually secured a lower paid job in new media.

Andrea said: “The Guardian showed absolutely no sympathy. Because I was employed as a casual and didn’t have a permanent contract, they refused my requests for physiotherapy and made no attempt to find a way for me to work which would have reduced the repetitive strain in my elbow. The paper has all but ended my career in website editing and production.”

Marion Voss, Andrea’s solicitor at NUJ lawyers Thompsons said: “The Guardian failed in its duty of care to Andrea. This is one of the worse cases Thompsons has seen of a newspaper employer refusing to follow basic health and safety procedures. When so much is being talked about by HR professionals and the insurance industry about the importance of rehabilitation, that the paper refused Andrea treatment that might have enabled her to keep working is disgraceful.”

'The Register' also reported this story on 7th June 2006.