Black balloons will soar as events mark workers’ deaths in Britain
TRADE unionists will call for action today to prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of people through avoidable accidents and illnesses caused by their jobs.
More than 60 International Workers’ Memorial Day events across Britain will declare “remember the dead — fight for the living” as trade unions and campaigners remember those who have died as a result of simply doing their jobs.
And they will put a spotlight on the needless exposure of workers to hazardous substances which will shorten their lives.
A Trades Union Congress survey of 500 workers revealed yesterday that almost three-quarters of workers felt they were at risk from hazardous materials including asbestos, chemicals and gas.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said yesterday that hundreds of thousands of people suffer work-related ill-health, sometimes fatally, caused by hazardous substances, “yet every single one of these cases could be prevented.
“Many of these substances could be removed from the workplace or their use reduced, but where this is not possible, workers need much better protection. That means stronger regulation, and, more importantly, proper enforcement.”
She said workplace union activists will be examining ways to stop unnecessary deaths, injuries and illness today.
“We need employers and governments to do more too,” she said.The TUC call will be taken up across Britain at today’s memorial events.
Construction union Ucatt, which says its members are at greatest risk of workplace accidents and work-related illnesses, will be among those at the forefront of memorial events.
In Yorkshire, where six construction workers were killed last year, a minute’s silence will be observed at many building sites in the region.
Meanwhile in Tower Hill, London, a wreath will be laid at the Building Workers bronze memorial statue, which commemorates the lives of workers killed on building sites.
Black balloons will be released, one for every construction worker killed at work in the last year, during a minute’s silence.
Ucatt Northern regional secretary Denis Doody said: “As well as campaigning about site deaths we need to also target the invisible killer — occupational disease. Thousands of construction workers die prematurely every year because employers needlessly expose them to dangerous substances.”
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said the problem of workplace safety was worldwide. He said: “This is not an issue confined to the UK. “Each year hundreds of thousands of workers across the world die from preventable ‘workplace accidents’ or occupational diseases.”
But the call for action comes against a background of merciless coalition cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The government watchdog, which says two million people in Britain are suffering work-related illnesses, has lost 35 per cent of its budget and dozens of key workplace inspectors have been sacked. The cuts have been coupled with relentless attacks on health and safety regulations under the cover of “reducing red tape.”
Greater Manchester Hazards Centre’s Hilda Palmer, who campaigns for workplace health and safety, said injuries and illnesses are on the increase under the coalition.She said: “The first key step is for a new government to publicly reject the lie that good health and safety regulation and enforcement is a ‘burden on business’, it is not, it’s good for business, and lack of it is one hell of a burden on us.”