Health & Safety

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Workers Memorial Day / TUC Day of Action

12 February 2012

Workers Memorial Day is commemorated throughout the world and is officially recognised by the UK Government. The purpose of the day has always been to "remember the dead: fight for the living" and unions are holding events or memorials to remember all those killed through work. At the same time unions are campaigning for stricter enforcement with higher penalties for breaches of health and safety laws to try and ensure that such tragedies are not repeated.

Workers' Memorial Day 2012

TUC Day of Action to Defend Health and Safety

In 2012 the TUC, CWU and all affiliated trade unions are calling to make 28 April 2012, a day of action to defend health and safety from the attacks on regulation, enforcement, cuts and refusal to tackle the massive toll that health and safety breaches take on workers. Our health and our safety is under attack like never before and we must defend it, for our sake and that of future generations.

CWU Workers Memorial Day Event

A special 'Workers Memorial Day - Day Of Action' event is planned to take place at the CWU Workers Memorial Garden at CWU Education and Training Centre, Alvescot Lodge, Oxfordshire on Saturday 28 April 2012.

Government Attacks and Cuts: Regulation, Enforcement and Compensation Cuts!

The coalition Government is putting the safety and health of Britain's workers under threat, by trying to slash the laws that protect workers, cut Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforcement and inspections, and make it harder to win compensation for injured workers.

The Message is "Don't let this happen. Take part in the TUC Day of Action on health and safety on 28 April 2012, Workers' Memorial Day.

The proposed cuts are not inevitable, trade unions, safety campaigners and the CWU, TUC want proper legal protection for all those in work, a strong HSE, and a right to seek justice if things go wrong.

How safe is work?

The number of workers who actually were killed in the workplace in 2011 is given as 171. However this is less than 1% of the number killed by work. According to HSE figures, annually:

  • over 8,000 people die of cancers that are caused by their work,
  • 4,000 die from lung disease,
  • 800 people are killed on the roads while working,
  • there are up to 8,000 deaths from heart or circulatory problems caused by work.

The total figure is well over 20,000, but many experts put the real figure as much higher. In 2011 a staggering 1.9 million people were suffering from an illness that was caused or made worse by their work. All these deaths and injuries were avoidable if employers took the proper precautions.

Not just about safety

In 2011, a survey of more than 2,000 adults for Mind found that work was the biggest stress in most people's lives, but one in five believed they would be in line for redundancy if they mentioned they had a problem. The Government has claimed that "Britain is the safest place to work". Although it comes out near the top of the league when looking only at immediate fatalities, this is because Britain has far less manufacturing and heavy engineering than most comparable countries. If you compare deaths caused by work, or ill-health, then Britain comes well down the list. According to the Health and Safety Risk Index, published in January 2010, the UK's health and safety performance was 20th out of the 34 OECD nations.

Protection is being taken away

The Government is obsessed with removing regulations rather than trying to ensure that regulation is effective. In its first year it set up no less than three separate reviews of the "burden of health and safety regulation" on business and is planning to get rid of as many laws as it can. Unions have supported getting rid of unnecessary laws or simplifying laws where this does not reduce protection but the Government wants to go much further and wants all regulation reviewed and cut back if possible. It has already said it will remove protection for some self-employed, and has reduced the number of injuries that have to be reported.

Safety budgets slashed

The HSE has had the amount of money that it gets from Government cut by 35% over the next three years. This will mean that it will have to try to make up as much of the difference as it can by increasing charges and cutting services. A number of services have already been closed, including its information line. The HSE admits that the cuts will lead to increased deaths and injury. In a consultation document on charging issued in 2011 it said "the expected 'lower level of enforcement' would mean a consequent decrease in health and safety standards throughout Great Britain, with ensuing costs to society."

HSE Inspections

Over the past ten years there has been a big fall in the number of inspections, and even ten years ago there were not nearly enough. In March 2011, the Government instructed the HSE not to make any further proactive inspections in any but the most hazardous industries. The decision means that many industries, including light engineering, electrical engineering, docks, transport, electricity generation, health care, Royal Mail, BT, retail and quarries, will only see an HSE inspector AFTER something has gone wrong. Local authorities have also been told they must cut inspections dramatically.

When things go wrong

If you are injured through your work and it is your employer's fault then you may be entitled to compensation. The Government is trying to stop that by changing the way that the claims are dealt with. This will mean that workers will have to pay some of the legal costs out of their damages even when they win. They are also trying to make it easier for employers to dismiss workers by making it harder (and more expensive) to take an employer to an employment tribunal.

Unionised workplaces are safer

Workplaces that have trade union safety representatives and safety committees have half the serious injuries than those without. In January 2007 the Government published a report which 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.

What you can do

  • Find out what is happening in your area on 28 April.
  • Write to your local MP, Councillors and local newspapers telling them what the Government is doing is wrong.
  • On 28 April, organise a minute's silence at noon to remember those who have died because of their work.
  • Attend the CWU National Event at the CWU Memorial Garden at Alvescot Lodge.