by Gail Cartmail
Unite assistant general secretary
On Workers Memorial Day we remember the dead and fight for the living. With only days to go for the most important general election in a generation this Tuesday’s Workers Memorial Day has added significance.
It is a sad fact of life that Health and Safety regulations are routinely mocked. When we see health and safety regulations we see protection - the Tories backed up by employers see red tape to be put on a bonfire.
In a familiar refrain here is David Cameron, prime minister, calling for an end to the UK’s: "over-the-top health and safety culture. “ In a speech, he said this had created a "stultifying blanket of bureaucracy, suspicion and fear."
So it is not surprising that the Health and Safety Executive, the government regulator has had a 35 per cent cut in its budget. This has meant fewer unannounced workplace visits, fewer improvement notices and a decline in the number of prosecutions for breaches in the law.
When Ed Miliband said: “It is only when working people succeed that Britain succeeds” he was making a decisive break with the past. He was putting himself fairly and squarely on the side of working people.
Unite and Ucatt have worked together and campaigned together to make sure that working people can go out to work and come back home safely. In such a dangerous industry as construction strong regulations are crucial.
In a statement following a recent lobby in parliament Ed Miliband said: “Britain needs better work. It needs jobs with higher skills and jobs that pay proper wages. It also needs workplaces that are safe and decent.
“For far too many people in Britain the workplace is nasty, brutish and unfair because the government is failing to set the right rules and because a minority of employers take advantage of the system. Most businesses understand the importance of safety at work, but a minority do not.
“David Cameron’s Conservative party might dismiss health and safety issues in the workplace, but it is not their safety at risk. The Labour party is committed to turning this round. Protecting people at work and keeping them safe should be the first priority of all employers. And the next Labour government will ensure that it is.“
A future Labour government has also committed to consign to the dustbin of history where it belongs the destructive practice of blacklisting, the scourge of construction workers thrown out of work for reporting health and safety breaches. Labour’s promised Inquiry into blacklisting is welcomed by all of us who believe it is the right of every worker to return home safe and free of injury or worse.
It is of course not only construction workers that need to be kept safe. The Health and Safety Executive figures released last month make for grim reading.
Key figures for Great Britain (2013/14) from the HSE show:
1.2 million working people suffering from a work-related illness
2,535 mesothelioma deaths due to past asbestos exposures (2012)
133 workers killed at work
78,000 other injuries to employees reported under Riddor
629,000 injuries at work from the Labour Force Survey
28.2 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury
£14.2 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2012/13)
Whether it is £14 billion or £1 the human cost cannot be calculated.