A mother has described how she has been left with debilitating injuries after her boss told her to put her hand inside a broken air conditioning unit to repair it.
Spinning fan blades within the machinery sliced through flesh and tendons on Donna Gardiner’s right hand – leaving her permanently unable to move several fingers.
The 34-year-old, who was the deputy manager at the Co-op branch in Grangewood Road, Chesterfield, has won a personal injury claim against her employers over the life-changing injury.
She says the incident has left her unable to do the simplest tasks – including dressing her two young children and preparing their meals - without help.
She said: “It’s only in the last few weeks that it’s dawned on me just how debilitating this incident has been; I can’t walk down the road holding both my sons’ hands, I can’t get them ready for school, I can’t even tie their shoelaces for them.
“My husband Stephen has been amazing. He’s had to give up a lot of time to do things around the house that previously we’d have both done.
“I used to make decorative cakes – it’s really delicate work. But I can’t do that any more because I’ve lost feeling and movement in my right hand which is my dominant hand.”
Describing the moments leading up to the accident in July, last year, Mrs Gardiner, of Southdown Avenue, Chesterfield, recalled how one of the refrigerators had broken down.
She telephoned her store manager who told her to press a reset button inside the machine. But she was not warned that within the vent a razor-sharp fan was still rotating.
The blade had cut through her tendon in her ring finger, caused 11 cuts across the middle three fingers and fractured the tip of her middle finger. Doctors told her she was lucky not to lose her hand.
She said: “At first, I didn’t realise how bad the injury was. But I could feel the blood running down my arm. I could tell by my colleague’s reaction that I’d done some serious damage.
“I didn’t even want to look at my hand. I’m not squeamish, but I didn’t want to see the bone and tendons in my fingers. I was in hysterics by the time I got to hospital and had to be given oxygen.”
She was rushed to hospital where doctors strapped the badly damaged hand together.
Several days later, Mrs Gardiner - who trained and worked as a secretary before joining the Co-op three years in a part-time role while she raised her children Dan, two, and Tom, five - underwent complicated microsurgery to try to save her hand’s mobility.
The procedure was only a partial success and left her with only limited dexterity.
The Co-op has admitted partial liability but the company is insisting Mrs Gardiner was also at fault.
Mrs Gardiner said: “It’s extremely distressing that the Co-op has not accepted full responsibility for my injuries. Do they think I’d have put my hand in a spinning fan intentionally? I didn’t think my boss would tell me to do something that was dangerous.”
Her solicitor, Shelley Barker, of Slater & Gordon, said: “The injuries Mrs Gardiner sustained were quite horrifying.
“The full scale of the damage done to her hand is now becoming clear. This has been life changing for her.
“Employees should never been put in this sort of dangerous position. Employers have a duty of care for their staff.”
The parties are still negotiating a settlement.