MINERS' union leaders are celebrating after a crippling hand condition suffered by former pitmen was classified as an industrial disease.
Dupuytrens contracture, for which there is no known cure, causes the ring and small fingers to bend in towards the palm and is the result of working with vibrating hand tools.
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council has submitted a report to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, recommending the condition should be recognised as an industrial disease.
Once endorsed by parliament it will mean that hundreds of former miners can potentially qualify for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
Durham Miners’ Association chairman Alan Cummings said: “We are very pleased with the news and proud of the role the association has played in the campaign.
“Over the years we have successfully campaigned to have vibration white finger, carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis of the knees prescribed as industrial diseases.
“This latest development is going to be beneficial to hundreds of our members in the North-East.”
Mr Cummings said the union had provided the advisory council with evidence.
Along with supporting medical evidence, the council had concluded that former coalminers who used vibrating handtools would have contracted dupuytrens contracture.
Once the findings have been ratified by parliament claimants would have to conform with certain criteria.
They will have to suffer fixed flexion deformity in one or more digits, have used vibrating handheld power tools and have spent ten years in industry.
The benefit is only paid when a threshold of 14 per cent disablement from one or more industrial diseases or accidents is reached.
Mr Cummings said: “We have lots of people who have might have seven per cent for white finger and six per cent for carpal tunnel syndrome – having only 13 per cent disablement.
“This could help hundreds of people over that threshold.”
He added: “It’s important to recognise that these people, who worked in the mines all those years, are still affected in 2014.
“By using these tools underground there are now three diseases of the hand that have been recognised - and one of the knees.
“That is a huge thing and people should remember the commitment these people gave to the mining industry.”