A lot of blog catching up to do regarding recent events. Apologies for not covering Workers Memorial Day earlier. We will write about the anniversary celebrations of Stoke Trades Union Studies and the North Staffs Miners Wive film launch in separate posts.
Workers Memorial Day
On 28th April, North Staffs TUC members and friends donned Forget-Me-Knot ribbons and commemorated Workers’ Memorial Day at the Sneyd Colliery Memorial in Burslem. The ceremony received a favourable write-up in the Sentinel the next day.
Brenda Procter, National Chair of Women Against Pit Closures and the North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group and honorary life member of North Staffs TUC, spoke first and her speech is featured below. She was followed by Steve Pearce, former miner and health and safety officer at Hem Heath Colliery at Trentham, who remembered the 4,700 coal miners who died in North Staffordshire and, in particular, the 23 who lost their lives at Hem Heath. Dave Lyddon, from Keele University and Colleges Union, who researches into industrial relations, spoke of local casualties. His speech is also replicated below. Richard Cartwright from Thompsons solicitors spoke about how the government has watered down health and safety law since 1st October 2013, as workers now have to prove that the injury, illness or disease was caused as a result of the negligence of the employer. Jason Hill – Musicians’ Union and President of NSTUC – then closed the proceedings with a rendition of Dark as a Dungeon. We ended the evening with drinks at the Bull’s Head.
Brenda Procter, National Chair of Women Against Pit Closures and the North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group
Thank you for inviting me here today to commemorate Workers Memorial Day with you, a special day when we remember the dead not only in this country but all around the world. But as we remember the workers who died in their place of work we must also fight for the living and make sure health and safety is a priority in our workplaces and we always put people before profit.
This year is a special year as we commemorate 30 years since the great miners’ strike of 84/85. As we look around this great city built on pits and pots and the steel industry and we stand here today by the Sneyd Colliery Memorial, where 57 men and boys lost their lives and many others in disasters at other pits, yes mining is a dirty and dangerous job, but you ask the miners who fought so hard to save our collieries in the 84 strike and most of them would say they would go back down the pit tomorrow if they could.
There always was and still is a great comradeship and community spirit and once more we are facing another fight to save our pits Kellingley and Thoresby from closure. This government is prepared to import coal from Columbia and other countries, mined by nine year old children, rather than invest in coal right here beneath our feet. So on behalf of North Staffs Miners Wives Action Group and National Women Against Pit Closures I thank you for inviting me here today and we will continue to work together to make sure that when we go out to work we have a safe and healthy environment. Thank you.
Dave Lyddon, UCU, Keele University; North Staffs TUC delegate
The International Labour Organization calculates that, worldwide, every15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related injury or disease; every15 seconds, 160 workers have a work-related injury. Every day, 6,300 people die as a result of occupational injuries or work-related diseases – more than 2.3 million deaths per year. 317 million injuries occur on the job annually;
There are Workers’ Memorial Day events today in Britain from Penzance to Inverness. These include a demonstration outside the Qatar Embassy. Hundreds of workers, particularly from Nepal and India, have died on building sites in Qatar, where the 2022 football World Cup is taking place. Many of these fit young men, living in squalid conditions, have died of heart attacks working in fierce heat of 50 degrees Centigrade and often denied drinking water. This is an ongoing scandal that even eclipses the tragedy of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh on 24 April last year, in which we now know that almost 1,200 workers lost their lives, 2,000 were seriously injured and 800 children were left orphaned. In that disaster, Rozina Begum, a 26-year-old seamstress, had her left arm trapped under a pillar. After 48 hours of people trying to rescue her, her arm was starting to decompose. She was given a saw and after a few hours, frequently passing out, she managed to saw her arm off and escape. As of today she is still waiting for some financial compensation.
In Britain, we don’t have such large multiple tragedies any more. What we do have is more hidden. The current government has been stripping away important pillars of the health and safety infrastructure. The TUC has just published its verdict: Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous: The government’s record on health and safety. You should read it.
Tonight I will focus on health and safety reports over the last year concerning Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire and some nearby towns in Shropshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire.
The latest figures for major workplace injuries figures for 2012–13, show, by council district: Cannock Chase 31; East Staffordshire 38; Lichfield 31, Newcastle 39, south Staffordshire 27; Stafford 58; Staffordshire Moorlands 35; Stoke-on-Trent 115; Tamworth 13.
There have been fewer local court cases than the previous 12-month period. These are usually brought about by horrific injuries and are the tip of the iceberg.
At a cheese manufacturer in Nantwich workers were regularly lifted on the prongs of a fork lift truck to load wagons. One fell and sustained multiple fractures to his ankle. At a copperworks in Froghall, near Cheadle, a two-kilogramme metal peg, attached to an overhead crane and sling, that was being used to tighten bolts on a machine, catapulted through the building roof and back down into the factory, hitting a 63-year-old employee on the head. He suffered life-changing injuries and has not returned to work. Working for a Biddulph-based road resurfacing sub-contractor, an employee slipped into an unguarded mixer on a job in Hanford and had to have his leg amputated below the knee. A Burslem demolition company and the main contractor, Thomas Vale, were responsible for a classroom at the former Sixth Form College at Fenton collapsing on top of a worker. ‘Valuable lessons have been learnt’ said the demolition company managing director.
Three cases involved unguarded machines. A 61-year-old lost a finger when cleaning a sawing machine in Stone; a time delay safety device, which kept the machine locked until after the blade had stopped moving, had been removed. At a Leek company producing seatbelts and harnesses a worker’s arm was dragged and crushed between two rollers. He was trapped for around 30 minutes and had to be freed by firefighters. The machine was installed in 1988 but no guard was ever fitted. The company had been prosecuted earlier for a similar incident. At an engineering company in Wem, Shropshire, the sleeve on the overalls of a 39-year-old became entangled in an unguarded drill spindle, and his arm and upper body were dragged into the machining area. He suffered three fractures in the neck and serious cuts and burns on his right forearm. The HSE said it was an “accident waiting to happen,” because there were no guards. Despite a health and safety consultancy reporting to the firm in 2008 on the absence of guarding on drills, nothing was done. The employer’s solicitor said (wait for it) lessons had been learned and that guards had now been installed on all machinery. Without any sense of irony, he said: “You are not dealing with a company that puts profits ahead of its employees.”
Three cases involved heavy objects falling on workers. A 52-year-old trucker from Stoke-on-Trent was also left with ‘life-changing’ injuries after being crushed in London by a pack of six-metre steel sheets weighing almost four tonnes which were lifted unsafely. At a tyre collection and recycling firm in Burton, several bales of compressed tyres, each weighing almost a tonne, collapsed and bounced on a 19-year-old worker, breaking his pelvis, left foot, ankle and leg, right arm, hand and wrist, and fracturing two bones in his neck.
A 20-year-old veterinary student from Cheshire was on her last day of a work experience placement at a stud farm in Whitchurch. She was struck by four falling straw bales, weighing more than 1.2 tonnes, which toppled from a five and a half-metre high stack. The plaster cast on her right leg needed metal rods fixed to the bone. Her left leg was put in traction and an artery in her thigh had been so badly stretched it was close to rupturing. Her pelvis was broken in six places and had to have permanent metal pins inserted. Her ankle was badly broken and she may need an ankle replacement.
Firms from Stafford and Cannock were also prosecuted. Most of the above fines were under £10,000. The Leek company was fined £35,000. By far the largest recent local fine, £100,000, followed the collapse of a heavy steel canopy at a new school, the Abraham Darby Academy in Telford, in 2011. The company responsible for the structure had not adequately instructed those fabricating and welding the canopy truss, and also failed to adequately inspect the completed work. Key pieces of the canopy truss steelwork were insufficiently welded together. When the roofing contractors added further materials, key welds failed and the structure collapsed. It was 57 metres long and weighed over 40 tonnes. Five workers sustained injuries ranging from fractures and broken bones to cuts and bruising following a 13-metre plunge. An HSE inspector said ‘It is a miracle that they were not more seriously injured or even killed.’ Other construction workers working directly under the canopy for most of the day were amazingly not there when it collapsed.
Inevitably some workers don’t walk or crawl away. In September last year Joseph Harrison, a 23-year-old, brought up in Etruria, educated at Thistley Hough High School and Reaseheath College, then living at Congleton, was killed at a crane manufacturer in Cheadle. A 56-year-old lorry driver, Paul Nodding, was trapped and died between two lorries at the Toyota factory at Burnaston in Derbyshire just after midnight one January morning this year.
Several immediate prohibition notices have been served by HSE inspectors on employers in the last year, forcing them to stop work to deal with a dangerous situation. Many were against builders, usually concerning scaffolding or unsecured work on roofs, such as at Leek, Cheddleton, Lichfield, Tunstall, Hanley, Kidsgrove, Fenton, Burslem and three sites in Newcastle, including Zanzibar in Brunswick Street, and at Wellington, Whitchurch, Crewe, Congleton and Sandbach. Prohibition notices involving asbestos were served on sites in Dresden and Newcastle, while an unguarded machine was stopped on a site in Scholar Green.
Other prohibition notices were for inadequately guarded machinery at the following: a quarry in Gailey near Cannock, a furniture maker in Stone, a power press operation in Fenton, a farm near Burton, a joinery at Crewe, a Sandbach engineering works, and a metal cutting guillotine in Nantwich. There were defective trip switches or emergency stop buttons in Nantwich premises. There was unsafe electrical installation in Great Haywood, near Shugborough; unsafe equipment at a Hanley garage; dangerous lifting arrangements at a Milton recycling plant and a Nantwich furniture maker; unsafe testing of cranes in Cheadle; and dangerous spraying operations at a Knypersley boatbuilder and a joinery in Brick Kiln Lane locally.
While fatalities and serious injuries sometimes make headlines, local workers have for centuries been quietly dying prematurely as a result of pneumoconiosis, bronchitis and emphysema contracted in coalmining, and silicosis and pneumoconiosis in the pottery industry (respiratory conditions once known as potters’ rot). They have been joined by the national tragedy inflicted by asbestos. In the last year the following deaths have been reported from mesothelioma or other asbestos-related conditions: a 78-year-old former steam train cleaner from Stretton, near Burton; an 81-year-old from Stapenhill, near Burton, who had worked as a building labourer in the 1950s and 1960s; an 81-year-old former mouldmaker at a Fenton pottery; a builder, aged 70, from Stafford; a 60-year-old from Armitage, near Rugeley, who, when only 15 or 16, had been involved in mixing asbestos for laggers at a power station; and, most worryingly, a 47-year-old from Longton who had been exposed to asbestos when packing parcels into Royal Mail delivery vans.
While I have concentrated on manual workers tonight, we must not forget the hazards faced by non-manual workers. Just today a 61-year-old female teacher was stabbed and killed at her school in Leeds.
We can’t change the past, the fatalities, the injuries, and the slow ticking time-bomb of industrial disease, but we can shape the future for the better if we organize. If we don’t, who will?