Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham

Workers' Memorial Day

Every year in this country, hundreds of workers are killed at work and hundreds of thousands of others are injured or become ill. After decades of struggle by workers and their unions, we have made significant improvements to our working conditions, we have good Health and Safety laws, but the toll of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths remains enormous.

This year, as always, I will be commemorating Workers’ Memorial Day. Last year, I attended a moving wreath-laying ceremony at Three Mills Park with councillors, union officials and others, to remember the loss of four men, three of whom died trying to rescue their colleague who was trapped underground by poisonous gas, 100 years ago. 

In the United Kingdom more than 200 people die while working each year, and 10,000 more are lost due to work-related diseases. But one of the most dangerous industries to work in is construction. According to UCATT, the union for construction workers, there were 59 deaths in the Construction Industry in 2005/2006. There were also 3,677 major injuries and 86,000 people who suffered from an illness which was caused or made worse by their job.

This is especially relevant to us in Newham, as we have two of the biggest construction sites in the country in our Borough – the Olympics and StratfordCity. We must make sure that the highest Health and Safety standards are applied. We must make sure that the need to complete the Olympic work for the opening in July 2012, does not mean that safety is compromised. We want to be able to remember our Olympics for the right reasons, not because of the deaths of those that built the stadiums and venues.

Official figures stated that 14 workers died during construction phase of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, although Greek Trade Unions stated additional deaths went unreported.  Last month 6 workers were killed in Beijing constructing a subway tunnel for the 2008 Chinese Olympics.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the body managing the Olympic building in the borough, have pledged to make the 2012 Games the safest yet for construction workers. The ODA has appointed a new head of health and safety to be responsible for the wellbeing of the thousands of people working on building the sporting arenas, roads and other facilities for the Games.

Health and Safety may not seem wildly exciting, yet it is one of the most important aspects for every member of our country's workforce. We all need to be mindful of our own, and our colleagues' safety.
Workers Memorial Day is our chance to honour those who have paid the ultimate price for doing their jobs - and to pledge our support to preventing the needless and avoidable waste of life through preventable deaths at work. 

This year's Workers' Memorial Day theme is ' Health and Safety needs not just regulations, but also enforcement, with the slogan this year being "remember the dead, but fight like hell for the living".

Which is exactly what the distillery workers did more than a century ago. We may never be faced with the sudden, stark life-changing choice those workers faced, but we can affect the safety of those who work with us, or in our community.

So, I would ask you on Saturday, even if just during a quiet moment, remember the dead - and fight for the living.

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