Health and safety campaign grows

Submitted by AWL on 13 September, 2002 - 10:26

From Solidarity 3/12, 12 September 2002
The statistics remain shocking: 250 deaths a year at work a year officially, but this does not include 1,000 work-related deaths on the road and perhaps 5,000 a year because of asbestos. Over 2 million people are injured every year at work and 27,000 leave the workforce permanently due to illness or ill health. In construction, there is the equivalent of a rail crash every week in terms of casualties, yet less than 20 prosecutions of business people have taken place in the past fifty years. Paul Hampton reports.
Six hundred delegates from trade unions, support groups and campaigns attended the most important health and safety conference of the year in Manchester on 6-8 September.
The Hazards conference, held at UMIST and organised by the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, involved plenaries, workshops and fringe meetings. The discussion reflected the different strands of thought within health and safety campaigning, with most stressing union organising, some wanting more direct action, while others put their emphasis on changes to the law.
The themes of the conference were getting more trade union safety reps, criticising the Government's record on health and safety and on international solidarity. Highlights included Pat Preston from the Australian building workers union CFMEU, who spoke of their tremendous record of industrial militancy, and the fight of Clydebank workers on asbestos.
The government's record on health and safety was rightly condemned. Despite three years passing since it was announced in the Queen's Speech, there has been no Safety Bill in parliament, and for 100 days since the reshuffle there has been no safety minister. A law on corporate killings has still not reached the statute book, despite a sharp upturn in fatalities at work, and the acquittal of executives like James Martell of Euromin, the firm that killed Simon Jones.
The statistics remain shocking: 250 deaths a year at work a year officially, but this does not include 1,000 work-related deaths on the road and perhaps 5,000 a year because of asbestos. Over 2 million people are injured every year at work and 27,000 leave the workforce permanently due to illness or ill health. In construction, there is the equivalent of a rail crash every week in terms of casualties, yet less than 20 prosecutions of business people have taken place in the past fifty years.
The only factor that has been shown to improve to improve health and safety is more safety reps, yet the Government has refused to give reps the power to issue notices like inspectors, and still reps get victimised with no right to reinstatement. The HSE inspectorate remains underfunded and most of its publications are aimed at making a "business case" to employers to carry out health and safety measures they are obliged by law to undertake.
However, there is an increased profile for health and safety, largely because of terrible rail crashes, but also because of the campaigns by trade union activists to force the issues onto the agenda.
The Hazards conference has been growing over the past few years, with 550 last year, which was a big increase on previous years. It is another important sign of the revival of the labour movement.

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