Remembering the workers

28 04 2012

The speeches at the Workers’ Memorial Day ceremony in Hanley today reminded us all of the fundamental importance of ensuring that we fight hard to enforce and protect our hard-fought health and safety regulations that help to ensure that our work does not put our safety at risk or damage our health, and to make sure that employers are called to account if it does.

Jason Hill, President of the North Staffs TUC, welcomed the supporters who had walked up from the Communication Workers’ Union offices in Lindsay Street with banners to the Workers’ Memorial Tree outside the Potteries Museum. The Sentinel took a couple of photos at the CWU offices so we’ll link to their page once available. After a minute of silence to remember the dead, the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Councillor Terry Follows, spoke of his first-hand experience of the hazards of work, as he recounted how his father, a miner, had respiratory disease, and his mother had hearing problems through working in the pottery industry in the days before ear plugs. He also spoke of how, as someone who had worked in the buildings industry, he knew first-hand how important health and safety is.

Picture of supporters at the Workers Memorial Day ceremony in Hanley

The next to speak was Councillor Andy Platt, who spoke about how bosses only really started taking health and safety more seriously when they knew that  laws were going to come in to make them more accountable for deaths in the workplaces. He said  that is was vital that such laws were maintained in this country. He then went on to talk about how perilous certain industries were to work in. He said that although construction was still one of the industries in Britain with the poorest safety record , it was agriculture which was the worst and how unbelievable that was in our current age as you would have thought we knew what we were doing by now.

Dave Lyddon from Keele University UCU spoke next and his speech is reproduced in full below, as it contains a detailed account of  some of the recently reported  health and safety injuries and fatalities:

It seems appropriate on Workers’ Memorial Day to list some of the health and safety injuries or fatalities reported locally in the last 12 months.

Last night I couldn’t get on to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website so I searched through the Sentinel.

To start with, there are regular rulings in coroners’ courts on deaths caused or part-caused by industrial disease.

In the last year alone there have been six reported local cases of death by mesothelioma. This is a rare incurable cancer whose only known industrial cause is exposure to asbestos. The six who died consisted of three joiners (the youngest being 61), a maintenance engineer, a machine operator and someone with a varied work history. A former factory worker and a former pottery kiln worker also died from asbestos-related lung cancer.

Some 2,300 died nationally from mesothelioma in 2009, the latest set of figures available. Total asbestos-related deaths are not expected to peak until 2030 – mesothelioma can take thirty, forty or even fifty years before any symptoms show.

The other great killer disease in modern times is miners’ lung. And four ex-miners were reported locally in the last year to have died from pneumoconiosis or bronchitis and emphysema. That would surely be an underestimate.

In the last year there have also been several prosecutions of local firms for health and safety offences – causing serious injuries – often committed some time ago, given how long it takes for cases to come to court.

These include a 30-year-old worker at Dupre Metals in Chesterton who was loading bags of the mineral vermiculite and became impaled on spikes attached to a hopper. As well as deep puncture wounds he broke his pelvis and fractured his spine. A 34-year-old worker fractured his spine at Festival Park when struck by scaffold tubes he was trying to move by crane; he is now confined to a wheelchair.

A 28-year-old foundry worker at Copper Alloys in Burslem fell into an unfenced pit of molten metal suffering severe burns to an arm and his upper legs. A 41-year-old lost his fingertip on a circular saw at a Fenton company. And a 28-year-old scaffolder fell through a factory roof at Blurton, breaking both wrists and two vertebrae and will never be able to do manual work again.

In the last year three demolition workers were hospitalized when working at the former Sixth Form College in Fenton when a roof they were working on collapsed in high winds. A 35-year-old council subcontractor had a leg seriously injured when slipping into a tarmac mixer in Hanford.

Most tragically, a 26-year-old shop fitter, Michael Kelly, refitting Ernest Jones jewellers at the Potteries Centre was hit by falling debris, suffered head injuries and died. And a 50-year-old welder, Mark Bullock, died after being seriously burned at John Pointon’s animal rendering plant at Cheddleton, a workplace which had suffered an earlier fatality in 2004.

It is well established that there are strong links between the incidence of near-misses and minor injuries and the incidence of major injuries. But the official reporting of minor injuries has been relaxed from this month, April 2012. Under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations), firms have to report to the HSE only those injuries that lead to an absence from work of more than seven days, rather than the longstanding reporting of absences of over three days.

The number of minor injuries will therefore apparently drop dramatically; and the will to do anything about them will also suffer and the risk of more serious injury or even death will increase – unless safety reps and other activists can force firms to keep proper records of all injuries and of near-misses and force them to act on this evidence.

Andy Hickerman, CWU Area Health and Safety Rep and member of the Midlands No 7  CWU branch in Hanley, remembered those who had died working in the postal service. He  explained that although Royal Mail and British Telecom have been convicted of Health and Safety offences in recent years, both companies have been placed in the government’s new ‘Low-Risk’ category, meaning an end to proactive safety inspections. He said that a staggering 1 in 2 of the 38000 postal vehicles on the road is involved in a road traffic accident and that stress is a huge problem, as workers are under constant pressure at a time of major change within the service. He closed with a rallying call to keep up the fight for a brighter, safer future for our industries.

Jason Hill followed Andy and highlighted Marx’s work in Capital on the pottery industry in the 19th century and of Marx’s reference to a physician’s report which detailed the many health problems of the potters:

They are, as a rule, stunted in growth, ill-shaped, and frequently ill-formed in the chest; they become prematurely old, and are certainly short-lived; they are phlegmatic and bloodless, and exhibit their debility of constitution by obstinate attacks of dyspepsia, and disorders of the liver and kidneys, and by rheumatism. But of all diseases they are especially prone to chest-disease, to pneumonia, phthisis, bronchitis, and asthma. One form would appear peculiar to them, and is known as potter’s asthma, or potter’s consumption. Scrofula attacking the glands, or bones, or other parts of the body, is a disease of two-thirds or more of the potters.

Jason spoke of how it is essential to keep health and safety at the forefront of our campaigning and not standby and let our health and safety protections and our NHS be destroyed by this current government. He then read a poem.

Supporters then took in the small stalls with refreshments, Hazards campaigning materials and Palestinian Fairtrade goods.

Thank you to everyone who supported this event, with a particular thanks to the speakers who highlighted how important it is for us to fight this current government’s attacks on our hard-won health and safety protections at work.




2 responses

28 04 2012
Workers’ Memorial Day « northstaffsagainstcuts

[…] Taken from the blog of the North Staffs Trades Council […]

16 05 2012
A fairtade feast of flavours! « North Staffs TUC Blog

[…] colleagues and supporters in the North Staffs area. The Zaytoun products were well-received at the Workers’ Memorial Day event at the end of last […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: