A central Queensland mine worker has been awarded almost $1.5 million in damages by a Supreme Court Queensland judge, Justice Graeme Crow, after suffering white finger syndrome as a result of his employer’s negligence.

Tyndall v Kestrel Coal Pty Ltd (No 3) [2021] QSC 119

Jamie Tyndall (Tyndall) commenced as a machinery operator at the Rio Tinto underground coking coal mine at Kestrel in the Bowen Basin in September 2011. At the time, Tyndall was employed by Kestrel Coal Pty Ltd (Kestrel) and was assigned to a development crew operating a “continuous miner” cutting underground roads to extract coal by shuttle car and expose fresh panel sections.

From September 2015 to March 2016, Tyndall was in charge of operating two loaders and worked two shifts per month, with each shift lasting seven to nine hours. As soon as Tyndall started the loader, the machine would vibrate, and he would feel the buzz through his entire body.

After experiencing excruciating pain and discolouration in his left ring finger, Tyndall sought medical intervention from the registered Rio Tinto nurse. The nurse referred him to the Emerald Hospital, where he was diagnosed with vibration-induced “white finger syndrome”. Within the following weeks, Tyndall could not use his left hand at all and resigned from the mine in February 2017.

Tyndall then filed an injury compensation lawsuit in March 2019.

The claim came before Justice Crow in Rockhampton in April 2021, by which point Tyndall could not return to any manual work and his condition was unlikely to improve. Justice Crow considered various case studies that demonstrated the loaders Tyndall was required to operate had a vibration level that presented a significant risk. This led Justice Crow to find that Tyndall would not have suffered this injury if Kestrel had not breached its duty of care.

Additionally, the risk of Tyndall developing hand-arm vibration syndrome was not only reasonably foreseeable, but actually foreseen by Kestrel. The two loaders had health limits of two hours, which Kestrel was aware of. Further, the company had a standard operating procedure containing considerable information on hand-arm vibration syndrome in place. However, Tyndall did not receive any training regarding vibration injuries.

Kestrel argued that Tyndall’s left hand pain was due to prior heavy manual handling work, prolonged heavy smoking, extreme anxiety or other pre-existing medical conditions. Justice Crow rejected this argument and reasoned that had Kestrel restricted loader operations to two-hour stints and implemented appropriate duty rotations, “it is more likely than not” that Tyndall would have avoided the debilitating vibration injury.

At hearing, competing medical evidence was presented. Opinions from Dr Wallace Foster (vascular surgeon), Dr Phillip Vecchio (rheumatologist) and Dr Cameron Mackay (hand surgeon) all favoured Kestrel’s argument that the vibrations were “irrelevant” to Tyndall’s injury. However, Dr Simon Quinn, Tyndall’s treating vascular specialist, declared the connection between the chronic exposure to heavy vibrational forces as the ultimate cause of Tyndall’s injury.

Ultimately, Justice Crow favoured medical evidence provided by Tyndall’s medical practitioner and concluded that non-employment factors were not contributory to the injury.

In quantifying the damages suffered by Tyndall, Justice Crow took into account the usual types of damages. The final amount awarded was $1,483,319.00, including $875,000.00 in future economic loss.

Key takeaways

  • Employers should have regular discussions with their employees about current training and safety protocols and stay up to date with the necessary procedures for work sites.
  • Appropriate workplace health and safety measures are integral for all businesses and organisations, particularly high-risk workplaces involving manual labour.
  • Implementation of safety policies and procedures are critical to ensure not only the success of workplace policies and procedures themselves but to safeguard workers against harm.