Freelance editor wins £37,500 in damages

A freelance editor who worked at The Guardian where she developed repetitive strain injury has been awarded £37,500 in damages after the newspaper denied her access to medical treatment.

Andrea Osbourne, who worked nights for 45 hours a week, received the payout for “one of the worse cases” of a newspaper employer refusing to follow basic health and safety procedures.

Such is the verdict of Marion Voss, Ms Osbourne’s solicitor, who yesterday said that The Guardian “failed in its duty of care to Andrea,” by blocking access to an on-site physiotherapist.

According to the NUJ, which has supported Ms Osbourne’s claim, she was diagnosed with RSI by her GP in May 2002 – more than a year after she started at The Guardian as a website editor.

The waiting list for physiotherapy on the NHS was so long and Ms Osbourne was said to have been in so much pain that she was told to seek help from her employer. The Guardian refused.

“The Guardian showed absolutely no sympathy,” Ms Osbourne said, reflecting on her ordeal.

“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.”

By March 2003, the injury had grown worse and Ms Osbourne was ‘forced’ to stop working at the newspaper’s Farringdon offices.

Her hospital consultant added to the anguish - telling the freelance she would never be able to return to her editor’s chair again, citing a new career as the only alternative.

The Guardian disputes Ms Osbourne’s claims. It has made no admission of liability, despite the payout by the newspaper’s insurers, and said it was “saddened” by her representation of her situation.

A statement by the group added it took "extremely seriously" the welfare of all its permanent, freelance and casual employees, contrary to her claims, the claims of the NUJ and the claims of Thompsons solicitors.

“Andrea Osbourne was a casual sub who, far from being 'forced to leave', was in fact offered a permanent staff job on the website," the newspaper said.

"This would have made access to the company's healthcare scheme and physiotherapy programme a matter of course. Osbourne initially accepted the job, but then chose to decline the offer as she indicated she was making a lifestyle change and moving to Yorkshire.”

Ms Osbourne yesterday maintained that The Guardian “has all but ended my career in website editing and production.”

Her solicitor added, “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.

"Instead the paper denied liability and we were forced to get an ergonomist report to support Andrea’s case. Still The Guardian did not settle the case until close to the trial date."


26th May 2006

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