Remember the dead and fight for the living

28 Apr

Today is International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD), and as such I attended a couple of events to ‘remember the dead and fight for the living’. At 9.30 this morning, workers, union employees and union members from all areas of the public and private sectors – along with myself – gathered beside the statue of the unknown construction worker next to the Tower of London to pay our respects.

As someone who has experienced the death of a family member due to injuries sustained at work, I found it allowed a poignant opportunity to contemplate the scores of people around the world who have had their lives cut short because of negligent health and safety management at work. Black balloons were released, one for each worker who had died in London in the past year, there was a minute’s silence and wreathes were laid in commemoration.

The crowd heard a series of speakers, one of which was Unite general secretary Gail Cartmail. She expressed concerns about workers’ who fear speaking up about their safety with in a climate of widespread job insecurity. It will be interesting to see whether this becomes more of an issue as increasing numbers public sector workers are made redundant.

There was also a lot of anxiety expressed about the future of health and safety with the reforms to legislation commissioned by Chris Grayling, secretary of state for employment, and the falling number of proactive HSE and local authority inspections and the cessation of inspections to workplaces categorised as ‘low-risk’ (such as quarries and many areas of manufacturing).

At 12 o’clock, amid all the tourists and news crews setting up to film the royal wedding tomorrow, a protest was held outside of the Department for Work and Pensions’ offices in Westminster. Wonderful trade union banners were unfurled and a megaphone was produced, and a series of trade union representatives and campaign organisers proceeded to pronounce their commitment to making workers’ lives safer and their frustration and condemnation of the looming cuts. HSE inspector and Prospects representative Simon Hester even managed to rouse Chris Grayling from his office, who pronounced to the crowd ‘my door his always open to the TUC’ (but presumably not at that moment, as he didn’t stop to talk for any longer and wandered off in the other direction…).

It was interesting to speak to so many people committed to health and safety, and heartening to know that with their and the British Safety Council’s efforts, occupational safety and health will always be a high priority on the political agenda.

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