A JANITOR with a pharmaceutical manufacturer has been awarded €64,000 after the High Court found his employer was negligent in allowing him to work excessive overtime.
The award to Richard Steer (73), Derrykill, Newport, Co Mayo, was also in relation to Allergen Pharmaceuticals Ireland’s failure to deal appropriately with a problem caused by blue marks left on the floor of the factory’s sterile area by wooden pallets and which had to be cleaned by Mr Steer.
Mr Steer claimed he was left with an ongoing back injury as a result of having to use buffer/scrubbing machinery for heavy duty cleaning work over a protracted period of time and without any proper training.
Having to engage in heavy rotational work which involved awkward movement over long periods resulted in a repetitive stress injury to his back, it was claimed.
He claimed he was required to clean stubborn blue marks left on the floor by pallets using Nilfisk scrubbing machines which were not designed to clean such marks. He also said the company failed to heed complaints about this problem.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy rejected his claim he had to engage in heavy duty cleaning work. His role was to maintain cleanliness rather than to achieve cleanliness. Use of the cleaning machine did not require heavy or awkward movement, she said.
She also rejected his claim of inadequate training.
She said Mr Steer had, before starting employment with Westport-based Allergen in 1998, spent 40 years in a variety of different jobs, including those which were physically more demanding.
He was in the Royal Navy and had run waste paper and tiling and timber harvesting businesses. He was also a crane driver and for two years before joining Allergen leased and ran a pub in Newport, which he had moved to from his native England 20 years ago.
The judge said Mr Steer, who she said had a strong work ethic, never refused overtime. He gave evidence he might work as much as 36 hours overtime in a week.
On one occasion, between 2005 and 2008, he worked 19 twelve-hour shifts in a row.
The judge found he had failed to bring his back problems to the attention of his employer and “his failure to heed the signals emanating from his own back was foolish”.
A female co-worker, who did similar work, had managed the same workload successfully by taking time off notwithstanding that she suffered from osteoporosis, she said.
Had Mr Steer done so too, he might have avoided the degenerative changes in his back to the extent they have become chronic.
She was satisfied Allergen’s negligence in failing to remedy the obvious problem caused by stubborn blue marks from pallets and in permitting him to work excessive hours, had accelerated and exacerbated pre-existing degenerative changes.
She awarded him a total of €64,000.
Costs of the case, which took ten days to hear and involved 14 witnesses, including four medics, five work colleagues and two engineers, will be dealt later.