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January 29, 2010

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Worker injured by ill-fitting body armour

A community enforcement officer has won damages after his

local-authority employer gave him poor-fitting, second-hand body armour

to carry out his work.

Anthony Roach, 31, suffered serious back and shoulder pain as a result of the defective equipment, which had been issued to him as protection against stabbings.

He wore the armour continuously throughout 11-hour shifts while working for Stockton Borough Council’s neighbourhood services team, investigating complaints in potentially dangerous situations.

Mr Roach was first issued with the faulty armour in April 2006. Five months later, after developing pain in his shoulder and back, he complained to his bosses that the equipment didn’t fit properly. Other colleagues also complained about ill-fitting equipment, but the council did not attempt to resolve the problem until June 2007, when Mr Roach was put on light duties.

Middlesbrough County Court found Stockton Borough Council failed to provide Mr Roach with adequate protective equipment and awarded him £2000 in compensation.

It was found that he had been given second-hand armour, and the protective plates inserted in the back and front were different sizes. The heavier plate pulled the officer to his left and, by adjusting his body to compensate, he developed his injuries.

Mr Roach said: “The ill-fitting armour led to a lot of aches, pains and sleepless nights. I suffered for around 10 months, but it felt like an eternity.”

Commenting on the case, Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, described the council’s actions as “inexcusable”.

He said: “Community enforcement officers deal with potentially dangerous situations — if they do not get the right equipment to do their job, it could put their lives at risk.”

Diane Davison, from Thompsons Solicitors, added: “If protective equipment is needed in order for an employee to carry out their duties, employers have a duty to ensure that it fits correctly and that it is up to the job. In this case, Mr Roach was lucky that his armour never had to prove its effectiveness.”

In a statement, Stockton Borough Council said it regretted the case had ended in court proceedings and said it would be challenging the legal costs awarded against it.

It continued: “We have established grievance procedures, which have been agreed with the trade unions and staff, which aim to resolve problems in an efficient and non-adversarial way. We are undertaking an urgent review of why this case avoided those procedures.”

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