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  • Lee Calver
  • 29 April 2014
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International Workers’ Memorial Day – importance of health and safety reinforced

Yesterday marked a significant day in the health and safety calendar as people worldwide attended events to remember those who have lost their lives as a result of injuries or accidents caused by their work.

International Workers’ Memorial Day, which takes place each year on 28 April, is officially recognised by the UK Government and this year’s theme was ‘Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights'.

Explaining the importance of the day, IOSH President, Tim Briggs, yesterday said:

"Today, we mark International Workers' Memorial Day. Coming so soon after the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, it is perhaps right this year that we remember those who have died this past 12 months because of terrible workplace conditions.

"In the 21st century, it cannot be right that those making the products we consume, wherever they work in the world, do so at great risk to their own safety.

"Let today bring a focus on occupational safety and health, in which employers recognise their moral duty to protect people from harm no matter where they work in their supply chains. And let's learn the lessons of tragedies like Rana Plaza, so we can prevent recurrences of such terrible events."

As well as paying tribute to those who have prematurely lost their lives, the day also serves as a reminder that workplace-related deaths are not inevitable and can be prevented.

The TUC argued that the day should be used to highlight the need for strong regulation at national, European and global level. It went on to say that in the UK we need an end to cuts in enforcement and regulation, and instead need action to tackle the huge number of occupational diseases and injuries.

In a new report published yesterday, the TUC alleged that in the last four years the Government has cut funding to the HSE by 40%, blocked new regulations and removed vital existing protections,  cut support for employers and health and safety representatives, seen local authorities reduce their workplace inspections by 93%, and made it harder for workers to claim compensation if they are injured or made ill at work.

The report, ‘Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous: The government’s record on health and safety’, argues that the Government’s “persistent ideological attacks on key health and safety legislation threaten even more accidents, injuries and deaths at work”.

Health and safety should clearly be at the forefront of every organisation’s thinking, and it is vital that employers and workers do not try to cut corners whilst at work, risking the lives of individuals.

Yesterday was also the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, which affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy working environment.

Organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as part of its global strategy on occupational safety and health (OH&S), the event aims to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and disease. The campaign also seeks to raise awareness about emerging trends in OH&S, including the scale of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities around the world.

The theme for this year was ‘Safety and health in the use of chemicals at work’. The ILO has released a report on this topic, demonstrating the precautions that should be taken whilst handling chemicals in order to reduce risks for workers, communities and the environment, which can be found here.

To coincide with the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, a new website about the history of health and safety has been launched - www.historyofosh.org.uk. The website is the culmination of three years’  work in a project spearheaded by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ National Occupational Safety and Health Committee (RoSPA NOSHC).

Covering over 200 years of the UK’s industrial history, from the 1802 Factory Act to current health and safety regulations, the new site is a fantastic tool for those who are looking for information on the history of health and safety legislation.

Karen McDonnell, RoSPA’s Occupational Safety and Health policy Adviser, said:

“Contrary to what some might believe, the management of safety and health at work is not a 21st Century phenomenon. With roots stretching all the way back to the turn of the 19th Century, this is an area at the heart of the UK’s industrial history.

“Numerous pieces of legislation have come on to the scene over more than 200 years, covering a wide array of different industries, but their shared aim has been to ensure that workers can go home to their families safe and healthy at the end of each day.”

McDonnell continued:

“It is important to value the history of occupational safety and health, not just to honour its pioneers but to develop a sense of perspective about what needs to be done today to continue to tackle preventable harms associated with work, not just in Britain but around the world.”

To mark these occasions,  Workplace Law has unveiled its latest film, ‘40 years of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974’.

The Act may now be 40 years old, but it still remains the primary piece of legislation covering work-related health and safety in the UK despite continuous changes to everyday working lives over the years.

In order to determine how the Act affects those from a variety of different professions, we talked to a range of organisations, in terms of size and complexity, about how they manage health and safety.

Watch our latest
film to hear exactly what the Health and Safety at Work Act means for different organisations and to discover why the Act is still considered fit for purpose after all these years.