health and safety

#IWMD 16 – 28 April Remember the Dead:Fight for the Living

It’s 6.00 am and the radio alarm wakes you up to start another day, you shower, think about the day ahead.

Think about what was discussed at work the day before, think about what you have to do before you get to work. Perhaps you have to drop-off the kids at school, get a birthday card, make an appointment to get that boiler fixed.

Time is getting on,  breakfast, if there is time, say your good byes and then you are on your way to work.

Planning out what needs to be done, where you have to be and hoping that this is the day you get around to that task that’s been on your list for what seems like forever.

Then, the phone rings and there is the start of one of the most difficult conversations that someone has ever had ‘Could I speak to….., I’m sorry to tell you….’

I don’t know if that is how the day began, or how someone received the news that their loved one, partner, husband, wife, father, mother, friend or relation had gone to work and wouldn’t be coming back.

But I can imagine that such conversations took place.

Figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that in the year up to 2015, 142 people died in the course of their work.

Behind these numbers we can see that most fatalities took place for those working in construction where 35 people died, in agriculture 33 people died, in manufacturing 16 people died and there was one death in mining and quarrying.

Although, in most sectors the figures have stayed the same or are improving the figure for services, which includes deaths associated with railways is increasing with 51 deaths which is 21% higher than the rate for the past five years.

The figures produced by the HSE also include those for members of the public who died in relations to accidents connected to work and show that there are 123 people who died including 21 (17%) occurring on railways. Suicides are included in this figure but the way that suicides are reported has changed.

The increase in deaths for those working in services underlines concerns recently expressed by the TUC.

Over a ten-year period 2009/10 to 2019/20 the HSE will see its budget almost halved.

Such a cut in funding casts real doubt that the HSE will be able to achieve what it sets out in a new strategy called “Helping Great Britain work well”.

Once again workers will come to rely on Union Health & Safety reps to ensure that their places of work are safe environment to work in.

That is why this Thursday,  on International Workers Memorial Day around the world many of us will gather to remember those who have died in the workplace and to pay tribute to the work done by Union Health & Safety Reps.

I will as I have for the last few years be attending the memorial event at Bonnyrigg, Midlothian.

But, this year I will be attending an additional event on Sunday 1st May at the Miners’ Memorial in Danderhall where a plaque will be unveiled to remember those that died at the Woolmet Colliery.

47 people died at Woolmet including on 12 April 1918, Christina Clark who was 16 year old.

At both those events I will take a few minutes to reflect upon those who left for work, thinking about the day ahead, but never to return.

The details of the events I have mentioned above are:-


Thursday , 28 April, 12.30, Michael McGahey memorial, George V Park , Bonnyrigg, EH19 2AD. Commemorative address will be given by Ryan Boyle, Vice-Chair of the STUC Youth Committee


Sunday, 1 May, 1.00 pm, Miners’ Memorial, Danderhall. More information can be found here.

International Workers Memorial Day Events

A number of events are taking place around the UK and can be details can be found here.





The Spirit of 1937 – Workers’ Memorial Day 28th April 2015

In 1937 The Road to Wigan Pier was published, this was George Orwell’s vivid account of working class living conditions in Lancashire and Yorkshire prior to World War II. In one section Orwell sets out what happens to a miner if he becomes injured and is unable to work. Back then it was left up to the company that the miner worked for to pay the miner a disability pension, in recognition of the injury that he had sustained.

If the company went bust then that was the end of the pension.

Fast forward a few years to the post World War II Labour government which embarked upon an ambitious programme of social reform, to tackle what the Beveridge Report saw as the five giant evils facing Britain at the time Want, Disease, Squalor, Ignorance and Idleness.

The key role Aneurin Bevan played in that government is well known and I’m sure that Bevan’s background in the pits of Tredegar played a part as that Labour government set about tackling Want by introducing a number of reforms, including an industrial injury benefit, as part of its 1946 National Insurance Act.

No longer would those injured at work be dependent on the vagaries of an employer funded injury benefit scheme.

Or, so you might think.

Fast forward again to now – April 2015 and Britain in the midst of one of the most unpredictable general election campaigns ever.

In March, The Guardian carried a story about a leaked report, which set out a range of welfare benefits potentially facing the axe should the Conservatives win in May.

One of the cuts mentioned is the scrapping of industrial injury benefits, in future the cost will be passed on to employers.

Those companies that don’t have an insurance policy will become members of a default scheme and pay a levy to fund it.

It was reported that getting rid of this scheme could save £1bn.

So, in 2015 we could be heading back to the scene Orwell described in 1937.

The most recent official figures show that 629,000 people are injured in the UK as a result of work.

As we approach another International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) on the 28th April, the focus of the trade union movement turns to those who have lost their lives or been injured as a result of a workplace incident.

This year the theme is removing exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace and union health & safety reps will be highlighting risks relating to asbestos, occupational cancer and other risks linked to biological exposure.

Where I live in Musselburgh and Midlothian there was a long tradition of mine working,

I stay a few minutes walk from Prestongrange, now an open-air museum, but up until 1962 a working pit and in Midlothian at Newtongrange, there is the National Mining Museum, on the site of the Lady Victoria Colliery which closed in 1981.

The very nature of long hours spent working underground with exposure to coal dust, meant that there was a risk of developing Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) sometimes called ‘Black Lung’. This disease can take a long time to develop, up to 10 years from first exposure before someone shows symptoms and although the pits around me closed some years ago, in 2011 there were 265 newly assessed cases of CWP recognised under the Industrial Injuries and Disablement Benefit Scheme.

Other diseases linked to exposure to coal dust such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema are recognised as prescribed diseases for coal miners and some figures suggest that there could be around 4,000 occupational COPD deaths currently each year in Britain.

So, although the coal industry in this country is now largely in the past, we should not forget those affected today by their time spent working underground, nor the valuable role that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) continues to play in supporting and representing former miners in winning compensation.

Of course the daily struggle to improve working conditions in the mining industry continues around the globe.

Come the next IWMD, we’ll be nearly a year into the first term of the new government elected this May and my hope is that there won’t be a need for any latter day George Orwell’s to be writing a new version of On The Road to Wigan Pier, where a Tory government has been elected and is systematically dismantling what Nye Bevan helped to create all those years ago.

There are a number of events held throughout the UK on 28th April to commemorate  IWMD including Edinburgh, Glasgow and the event I’ll be going along to in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian for a full list see here.