health and safety

Problems at work No.4 How and why could I start to raise health and safety issues at work?

The amount of Health and Safety legislation in Britain has increased over the last 20 years (much of it coming from the European Union). However, it is largely unenforced, so bosses can ignore it. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the government's official enforcement body and has a history of letting bosses off lightly. Even so, its own figures show that many accidents at work go unreported and the vast majority are avoidable.

Although the government and bosses clearly do not care much about our health and safety, the fact that the legislation exists means we have a chance to use it ourselves in order to improve our own health and safety, not to mention getting right up and tickling management noses in the process.

A Capitalist Crime against Humanity

Are you one of the 1 in 7 destined to suffer or die from this epidemic of capitalist killing? Three thousand people murdered in a year across the UK. A quarter of a million will die before 2020 across Europe. Meanwhile, millions of people are being killed across the world.

Surely, this needs a global response from a US-led multi-billion dollar action with full mass-media coverage. Surely, Tony Blair and George Bush should declare war on the ‘terrorists' who are causing this. Not a chance.

What kind of terrorist could keep up this murder rate? What sort of killer virus can be responsible? The mass murderer is capitalism, the killing machine is operated by the multi-national corporations, and the weapon they are using is asbestos.

Kasual Killing

Nothing demonstrates the both the inequity rife in Blair's Britain and the true blight of “asylum” seekers than the death of a 47-year-old man in a basement rubbish room of the Café Royal in London. For two years, while the rich dined in opulent splendour upstairs the man lived in the bowels of the hotel behind the rubbish bins.

When his naked and badly bruised body was discovered, police first though he had been murdered, before it was established that he lived naked due to the heat generated by the basement boilers and a post-mortem found that his injuries were consistent with a fall. The man had been an immigrant worker employed by an agency – one of thousands without papers who are forced to work for a pittance in hotels across London.

Government-funded deaths

The Centre for Corporate Accountability has revealed that, in the last 20 months, 9 apprentice workers - all under the age of 23 - have been killed on work placements as part of Government-funded courses. It is not known how many apprentices have been injured.

One of the deaths has resulted in a director and company being prosecuted for manslaughter. The trial is due to take place later this year at Exeter Crown Court. Another has resulted in the company pleading guilty to health and safety offences, whilst five of the deaths continue to be under investigation.

At the time, all of the apprentices were undertaking the work-placement part of their course/apprenticeship, and were on vocational courses funded by the government.s Learning and Skills Council, which funds all post-16 training and education for young people.

Formaldehyde kills

It has now been accepted that Formaldehyde, a chemical to which millions of workers are exposed to, causes cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer had already concluded that formaldehyde was probably carcinogenic to humans, but new studies have now found hard evidence showing that formaldehyde causes nasopharyngeal cancer in humans.

Formaldehyde is used mainly in the production of resins that are used as adhesives and binders for wood products, pulp, paper, glasswool and rockwool. It is also used extensively in the production of plastics and coatings, in textile finishing, in the manufacture of industrial chemicals, and as a disinfectant and preservative (formalin) used in labs and in morgues for embalming.

Deaths at work highest in North West

Figures released by trade unions the TGWU and UCATT show that 104 people died at work in the North West of England in 2003-04, the highest of any region in England, Scotland or Wales. The number of major injuries at work during the same two-year period was 7,218, the second highest of any region. Not one single company director was prosecuted for these deaths or injuries.

In March 1996, when in opposition, Labour gave its support to a law for director liability when Michael Meacher MP said in Parliament, “Responsibility for health and safety must be vested at the highest level of each organisation. Companies should appoint an individual at board level with overall responsibility for health and safety.”

Making a killing

Nearly twice as many people die from fatal injuries at work than are victims of homicide, a new report has revealed. At least 1,300 people died as a result of fatal occupational injuries in 2005-06 in England and Wales, compared with 765 homicide deaths. It was also found that non-fatal workplace injuries requiring hospitalisation were far higher than those needing treatment following a violent crime.

Yet at a time when crime, especially violent crime, takes centre stage and any working class youth who likes wearing a hood is stigmatized as a potential mass murderer, the violent crime and murder taking place in the workplace everyday is never reported. Moreover, while Labour responds to every Daily Mail hang-and-flog-them headline by throwing yet more people into already overcrowded jails the perpetrators of crime in the workplace get off virtually scot-free