ALMOST three people are killed at work every week. That’s the shameful truth revealed about our country by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics for 2014-15, the most recent year for which figures are available.
On top of the 142 who lost their lives hundreds of thousands were injured and 1.2 million working people suffered from a work-related illness.
Everyone should have the right to work in a safe environment. If people are still needlessly suffering injury and death while doing their jobs we need more action on safety, not less.
Unfortunately reasoned discussion of how to make our workplaces safer and healthier is drowned out by the loudmouth bigots of the “health and safety gone mad” brigade, whose mendacious twaddle serves one purpose: to remove the “burden” on bosses of legislation stopping them from forcing people to work in dangerous conditions.
The bosses’ agenda has dominated government policy since 2010.
Prime Minister David Cameron famously vowed to “kill off the health and safety culture for good.”
His governments have lopped millions off the HSE’s budgets, with a 35 per cent cut one of the first actions of the coalition five years ago. By 2020 the executive’s funding will have been halved over a decade.
In 2013 laws proposed by Vince Cable stopping HSE inspections of allegedly “low-risk” workplaces came into force. The executive itself has stopped conducting unannounced inspections even of many higher risk industries such as farming and quarrying.
Ministers’ hard work is paying off: analysis of HSE figures by Hazards magazine shows that cases of work-related illness have risen 7 per cent since 2010.
The two most common kinds of work-related illness, musculoskeletar disorders and stress, anxiety and depression, are up 7.3 per cent and 9.4 per cent respectively since Cameron entered Downing Street.
This year’s Workers’ Memorial Day theme is Strong Laws, Strong Enforcement and Strong Unions. The government is our enemy on all three counts.
Deregulation and the removal of the approved code of practice and construction (design and management) regulations are weakening our safety laws.
The sweeping HSE cuts and the shrinking number of unannounced workplace inspections mean those laws which remain are less likely to be enforced.
And the Trade Union Bill represents a declaration of war against strong unions. But strong trade unions are and will always be the best defence ordinary people have against being put at risk at work.
As the TUC’s Hugh Robertson has explained: “There are about 100,000 union safety reps countrywide. And there are many thousands of workers alive today because of the work they do.”
Business has never lifted a finger to keep working people safe on its own account. Corporate bosses have fought through the ages for their “right” to impose any conditions they please on their workforces.
From the matchwomen’s strike of 1888 on, it has been organised workers prepared to challenge their employers who have created safe places of work.
The “union effect” is real: organised workplaces are safer workplaces. Studies show unionised workforces report a massive 50 per cent fewer injuries. Illness rates are also higher among non-unionised workers.
But this positive effect is dependent on unions having the power to negotiate better conditions for their members and, ultimately, being able to call those members out on strike if management won’t play ball.
Today we remember the dead and commit to fight like hell for the living. That means fighting like hell to derail the pernicious Trade Union Bill and for a government that will unshackle our labour movement.