A WORLD-CLASS engineering company could face hundreds of thousand of pounds of compensation claims for vibration white finger after a former employee won a substantial out-of-court settlement.

Contractor Stanley Barber, 74, received an undisclosed payment, thought to be worth thousands of pounds, from Cleveland Bridge, Darlington, before his case got to court.

The claim is part of a series of compensation claims from former engineers and construction workers who have developed the debilitating condition.

Mr Barber, of Sheffield, worked for Cleveland Bridge for nine years in the 1970s, when he used various tools from concrete breakers and riveting hammers to grinders and drills.

He later developed the condition vibration white finger (VWF), which causes numbness, sensitivity to cold, whitening of the fingers and a loss of dexterity and strength.

Mr Barber said: "It's just developed over these past few years. In winter they're terrible with the cold, they tingle and you can't grip anything and they go numb. I never thought I would be able to claim."

Cleveland Bridge - which has built some of the world's most famous structures including the Victoria Falls Bridge, the Tyne Bridge, Newcastle, and the QEII Bridge, Dartford - declined to comment on the case.

Yesterday, Mr Barber's solicitor, Chris Fry, warned the case was "just the tip of the iceberg" for VWF.

He said his Sheffield firm, Beresfords Solicitors, was dealing with up to 1,000 claims a month from the region against construction, engineering, rail and manufacturing industries.

"People who in the past would have simply accepted it as a hazard of the job are now wanting compensation for the damage that has been caused to them at work," he said.

l Beresfords is holding free advice sessions on VWF at Old Shildon Working Men's Club today, and at the Southerne Club, in Newton Aycliffe, on March 26. For more information contact 0800 085 0505