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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Workers Memorial Day

Today is International Workers Memorial Day and I have been speaking at the North Lanarkshire TUC event at the Summerlee memorial. 

Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living is the slogan for International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD). The purpose of today is to remember those who have been needlessly killed, injured, or made ill by their work. But perhaps more importantly, it is also about using this human tragedy to strengthen the campaign for safe and healthy work. 

If work is not organised properly, or risks are not managed, it can kill you, injure you or give you an illness that may be with you for the rest of your life.

The number of workers actually killed at work last year in the UK was 171. However this is less than 1 per cent of the number killed by work. Every single year, over 8,000 people die of cancers that are caused by their work. Another 4,000 die from lung disease. 800 people are killed on the roads while working and 7–8,000 deaths from heart or circulatory problems caused by work

Add these up and the figure is already well over 20,000. Many experts put the real figure as much higher. And it’s not only deaths. Last year a staggering 1.9 million people were suffering from an illness that was caused or made worse by their work.

The UK government claims that Britain is the safest place to work because it comes out near the top of the league when looking only at immediate fatalities. This is because they have closed down swathes of manufacturing and heavy engineering more than most comparable countries. If you compare deaths caused by work, or ill-health, then Britain comes 20th out of the 34 OECD nations.

All these deaths and injuries were avoidable if employers took the proper precautions

Despite these statistics health and safety is under threat. The UK Government believes that health and safety is a burden on business. Cameron described it as a “monster”. It wants to: get rid of at least half of all existing health and safety regulations, cut inspections and enforcement of the law. It is also seeking to make it more difficult to get compensation in England. We are not exempt from this risk with charges rising to access justice in the Scottish courts and the Gill and now Taylor reviews.  

Numerous reviews undertaken by or for the government, on the whole find that the health and safety system: is not a burden, is actually doing a good and much needed job, and where there is a problem, it tends to be one of perception only. However, the government ignores the reviews and continues to peddle the myths and nonsense aided and abetted by the right wing media. 

The UK Government is cutting the HSE budget by 35 per cent over the next three years. This means increasing charges and cutting services, including its valuable information line. The HSE admits that the cuts will lead to “lower level of enforcement and a consequent decrease in health and safety standards throughout Great Britain, with ensuing costs to society.” Local authority cuts are having a similar impact on their role in safety enforcement.

These are costs that are daily mitigated by trade unions. Workplaces that have trade union safety representatives and safety committees have half the serious injuries than those without. A government report said that safety representatives save society between £181m and £578m each year as a result of lost time reduction from occupational injuries and work-related illnesses of between 286,000 and 616,000 days. Yet the government is trying to cut down on the amount of time that trade union representatives can spend doing their job. 

At UNISON Scotland we support extensive legal action and recover £millions of damages for our members. But we also use every single case to highlight how the incident could have been avoided and seek to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Prevention is always better than damages.

The trade union movement believes that those who are injured, made ill, disabled, or even killed by poor health and safety at work deserve more respect. As do the families left behind. 

So on this day it has never been more important for trade unions to stand together to defend the right to work in safety. Yes, remember the dead, but fight like hell for the living!

I would also recommend this short film produced for Hartlepool TUC. And this poem by UNISON member and poet, David E.Siddon


Our blood oils the gears of industry
The silent masses that none can see.

Of corners cut that stilled our hearts beat
For the expedient, healthy, balance sheet.
What of loss of parent, partner, child or friend?
All for a share-holders annual dividend.
We are the acceptable loss, the ones that fall
Because its as far as is reasonably possible.
So expose the lie, expunge the pain
And fight that we may not die in vain.
In our struggle, brother, sister, never cease
That the silent masses may rest in peace.
Your vigilance kept down the endless years
Lest we forget what it is that oils the gears.


1 comment:

  1. The poem is very good. Says it all!