Employee awarded nearly $1.5 million in compensation for vibrating finger injury caused by employer’s negligence

Employee awarded nearly $1.5 million in compensation for vibrating finger injury caused by employer’s negligence

22 September 2021 Authored by: Annie Smeaton, Gemma Sharp, Riley Anastasio   |   Topics: Workplace relations and safety

Introduction

In Tyndall v Kestrel Coal Pty Ltd (No 3) [2021] QSC 119, Mr Tyndall claimed that he developed white finger syndrome during the course of his employment, which was caused by the significant vibrations he experienced while driving a loader. After hearing considerable medical evidence, the Court awarded Mr Tyndall almost $1.5 million in damages.

Injury

Mr Tyndall was employed at a mine as an ‘outbye’ worker. An outbye worker drives a loader and performs miscellaneous tasks such as road work, emptying rubbish bins and assisting other crew members working in the mine.

As a loader driver, Mr Tyndall would typically spend 7 to 9 hours per shift operating the loader. Mr Tyndall received training regarding the operation of the loader, however he never received any training with respect to possible vibration injuries or the amount of time he was permitted to operate the loader in any given day. During each shift on the loader, Mr Tyndall gave evidence that, while driving the loader, the vibrations were so significant that he could feel the buzz throughout his whole body.

After experiencing agonizing pain and discolouration in in his left hand, Mr Tyndall visited the registered site nurse who referred him to the Emerald hospital. Mr Tyndall was diagnosed with vibration-induced ‘white finger’ syndrome. Subsequently, Mr Tyndall commenced proceedings seeking compensation for his injury in the Supreme Court of Queensland.

Decision

It was held that that not only was a diagnosis of ‘white finger’ syndrome, being caused by the vibrations of the loader, reasonably foreseeable, it was actually anticipated by the employer, Kestral Coal. This was demonstrated by risk guidelines and vibration assessment reports on the loaders that were in the possession of Kestral Coal. Mr Tyndall had been operating the loaders for periods of time well in excess of the recommended length of operating time set out in the risk guidelines. Kestral Coal admitted it breached its duty of care to Mr Tyndall in relation to the operation of the loaders, however disputed that the injury was caused by prolonged exposure to the vibration while in the loader.

Following conflicting medical reports from expert witnesses, the Court deemed that the cause of injury was prolonged exposure to heavy vibration. The Court also stated that, had Kestral Coal abided by their workplace risk guidelines and the recommendations in the vibration assessment reports, Mr Tyndall would not have developed white finger syndrome. The Court awarded Mr Tyndall $1,483,318.57 in damages, which included compensation for pain and suffering, past economic loss and future economic loss.

Employers must enforce safety procedures

This case highlights the importance of not only conducting thorough risk assessments, but also following through in enforcing safety guidelines and best practice. Courts are seeking to deter employers from breaching their duty of care to employees by ordering large compensation amounts to employees who suffer an injury at work.

If you want to ensure that your business is taking all necessary steps to protect the health and safety of your workers, or defend a workplace health and safety related claim, please contact a member of our Workplace Relations and Safety team.

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