International Workers’ Memorial Day

Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie has called on the Scottish Government to join other countries, and bodies such as the STUC and the Health & Safety Executive in officially supporting International Workers Memorial Day.
 
Cathy made the call when speaking at Falkirk’s IWMD event, and again in the debate in the Scottish Parliament that took place on May 1.
 
Speaking in the debate, Cathy said:
 
“Another day, another dollar—another 6,000 work-related deaths, or one death every 15 seconds. Work kills more people than wars. Globally, almost 270 million accidents are recorded each year, of which 350,000 are fatal. If we add to that the deaths from work-related illnesses, the total increases to more than 1 million deaths every year. Many of those could be prevented.

 Among European states, the UK has the lowest rate of work-related fatalities and injuries. Even so, 2.2 million people in the UK suffer from work-related illnesses. Some 30 million days are lost due to work-related illnesses and 6 million days are lost due to workplace injury.

 Despite improvements, Scotland is persistently above the UK average—the so-called Scottish safety anomaly. In 2006-07, 31 workers were fatally injured at work in Scotland, as were five members of the public. There were more than 12,000 injuries to employees and 1,250 injuries to members of the public. Scotland also has fewer successful prosecutions and smaller fines.

 However, those figures do not reflect the full extent of workplace dangers. Many accidents go unreported. In the UK in 2006-07, some 140,000 injuries were reported but surveys show that nearly twice that number of injuries occurred.

 New risks are constantly emerging. For example, call-centre workers are subject to long hours of sitting in front of a screen, suffer poor ergonomics and are put under high pressure. That results in a wide variety of ailments, from varicose veins to throat disorders, fatigue, stress and burn-out.

 Biological risks are widespread and often poorly understood. As well as more obvious risks, there are other dangers such as asthma, allergies and skin problems from moulds and bioaerosols. About 7 per cent of European workers report hearing loss due to work.

 “Stress is the second most common work-related health problem. The condition affects 22 per cent of European workers and is responsible for more than half of all lost working days. The annual economic cost of stress in the European Union has been estimated at €20 billion.

 Many are subject to new terms of employment and job insecurity. We have an aging workforce. With jobs becoming complicated and demanding, it is more difficult to balance work with family life. All of that contributes to stress.

 

Internationally, how many people are outside the statistics? How many child labourers are victims of employment and, in some cases, slavery? Employment laws should protect people from hazards, but too often they protect employers.

 International workers memorial day is an international event that was first supported in Canada. The day was adopted by the Scottish Trades Union Congress in 1993, by the Trades Union Congress in 1999 and by the Health and Safety Executive in 2000. Canada, Spain, Thailand and Taiwan support international workers memorial day. It is time for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to adopt it as an appropriate way of actively ensuring that the debate about health and safety and welfare stays on the agenda, and of marking the words of Mother Jones—remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.

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