Fighting for safety at work

by Daphne Liddle

WORKERS throughout the world held events on Thursday 26th April to commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day — the day when we remember those who have died through accident of illness caused by the work they have to do to earn a living — and campaign for improved health and safety for the living.

And in Britain it highlighted the urgent need to defend health and safety regulations and workplace inspections as the Con-Dem Coalition seeks to abolish them as unnecessary “red tape” that impede bosses making maximum profits.

The bourgeois media are also undermining what protection workers have with sensationalist stories of “health and safety gone mad”. Many such stories are pure invention or have nothing to do with statutory regulations but are inspired by over-cautious local authorities afraid of expensive lawsuits.

Construction is the most dangerous industry in Britain. In 2009/10 42 construction workers were killed, including five in London and six in south east England. Provisional figures for 2010/11 indicate that the numbers of deaths have increased by 15 per cent.

So the construction union UCATT is at the forefront of the fight to defend and improve construction site safety.

UCATT staged many events on Thursday, including a rally at the Building Worker statue by the Tower of London along with a wreath-laying ceremony, a minute’s silence and the release of black balloons in memory of construction workers killed in the past year.

UCATT official Jerry Swain said: “Workers Memorial Day is when we remember those killed and injured at work and provides an opportunity to highlight the dangers that workers all too frequently face in the workplace.”

He called for a “zero tolerance approach to breaches of safety regulations and also suggested that when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issues an improvement notice the company concerned should also receive a fixed penalty fine.

The HSE is facing cuts of at least 35 per cent in its budget. As a result of the cuts and Government policies the number of unannounced workplace safety inspections has been slashed, many industries will no longer receive this form of inspection. The Government is also consulting on proposals to dramatically weaken the regulations on the reporting of workplace injuries.

The public sector union Unison was also busy organising Workers’ Memorial Day events throughout the country.

Unison stressed that the demand for safe and healthy work will be all the more important as employers implement spending cuts. Staff who remain in post will be expected to do more work increasing the risk of various hazards including workplace bullying, lone working, manual handling, repetitive strain injuries (RSI), and stress.

Other work just won’t get done. At first this may not be noticed, but it will lead to greater risks including worsening and increasingly dangerous or unhealthy workplaces and increased exposure to asbestos as building maintenance is neglected.

It is estimated that work incidents cause up to 1,600 deaths each year including deaths to members of the public, work-related suicide, and traffic accidents whilst driving for work. On top of this, it is estimated that there are up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illnesses like cancer, respiratory illnesses, and heart disease.

Unison is calling for work-related ill-health, injury and death to become as socially unacceptable as drink-driving or domestic violence.