Workers Memorial Day

Dave Robertson writes:

This weekend I was honoured to be part of the delegation invited lay a wreath at the National Memorial Arboretum on behalf of Lichfield Constituency Labour Party for Workers’ Memorial Day.

The purpose of Workers’ Memorial Day has always been to “Remember the dead: fight for the living” and this is as important today as it ever has been. In a world where ‘health and safety gone mad’ has become as much a part of the national vocabulary as almost any other phrase it is important to remind ourselves that more people are killed at work every year than in wars and that only through remembering the mistakes of the past and taking action to avoid repeating them can we prevent people from being injured and killed doing what we all do every day.

What’s more taking workers health and safety seriously works. Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by breathing asbestos fibres which often doesn’t show symptoms until years after exposure. In 2015 more than 7 people were diagnosed with this incurable form of cancer every day often due to exposure decades ago, with a staggering 94% of these cases being preventable. Since the ban on using asbestos in the UK in 2000, cases of mesothelioma are predicted to fall by more than half before 2035. This is great news but, as ever, more still needs to be done. Campaigns to remove asbestos from public buildings including schools are still ongoing, as is much of the work of workplace health and safety representatives to record and monitor the state of asbestos in workplaces.

Outside of this example though the effect of strengthening health and safety legislation can be seen much more widely. A worker in 2017 was 80% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident at work than in 1981 and self-reported injuries at work have fallen by around half in the last 17 years. I have to ask whether being forced to use a ladder instead of standing on a chair is really a price that is too expensive to pay to see these improvements?!

There are many examples of people not respecting what health and safety means though, or even worse using this as a crutch to avoid having to explain an unpopular decision. I am reminded of the headteacher who banned children in school from playing conkers on the playground using ‘health and safety’ as an excuse. This was very quickly picked up by the more sensationalist parts of the media and the headteacher was understandably pilloried. The press did not, however, report the press release from the Health and Safety Executive which clearly explained that they did not support this decision and that there was no reason they could find that this should be banned on the ground of health and safety.

Similarly the age old myth; that if someone clears a path in deep snow to help people get around that they would then somehow be legally responsible under, Health and Safety Law, should a member of the public subsequently slip in their newly cleared path; is exactly that, a myth which would be completely laughable to any court in the UK.
This is also so important in the current climate of Brexit. The UK is currently part of the ‘gold standard’ of H+S legislation covered by EU regulation but we are about to be taken out of the regulation under the same government which introduced the “one-in, two-out” rule which placed an arbitrary barrier on any government department wishing to introduce rules around workers and consumer safety. Anyone wishing to investigate the effect of this rule would be wise to speak to the residents of North Kensington about their feelings towards it.

Only a Labour government will adequately protect working people from injury by placing the rights of workers at the centre of a government programme to promote social justice.