International Workers’ Memorial Day
Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don’t die of mystery ailments, or in tragic “accidents”. They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn’t that important a priority. International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) is held annually on the 28 April and commemorates those workers.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) annual statistics show on average that in the UK alone, 135 workers are killed in work related accidents each year. They also estimate that there are around 13,000 deaths each year from occupational lung disease and cancer caused by past exposure at work to chemicals and dust (such as asbestos or silica).
However, safety campaigners estimate that the true figure for all work-related deaths is closer to 50,000 each year.
International Workers’ Memorial Day was first brought to the UK in 1992, by the late great Hazards’ Campaigner, Tommy Harte as a day to “Remember the Dead: Fight for the Living.” On 28th April every year we come together to remember those who have lost their lives because of their work, and renew our commitment to fight for the living and make work safe. 1992 was also the year that I started my legal career and I have been acting for asbestos victims and their families ever since.
Asbestos is not just a historic problem
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that is mined from the ground. It is unique as it is the only mineral that can be woven into cloth. It can also be moulded into other forms such as sheeting, paper and rope. Asbestos is strong, flexible and fire resistant, and was often referred to as the “magic mineral”.
It was extensively used in UK industry and construction from the 1900s onwards, and installed extensively as fireproofing and insulation throughout the 1950’s to the 1980s.
The dangers to health of exposure to asbestos have been known about for over 100 years. It was first regulated in this country in the 1930s and by the 1960s, it was common knowledge that exposure to even small amounts of asbestos dust, could cause the fatal cancer mesothelioma – in fact, it was front page news in the Sunday Times in October 1965. That was 4 years before I was even born!
It is easy to believe that asbestos is a problem of the past, after all there has been a UK wide ban on asbestos importation, supply and use since 1999; however, 5,000 people a year still die from asbestos-related illnesses in the UK alone because of historic exposure to asbestos dust.
Asbestos didn’t disappear when it was banned in the UK
Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos materials continues in building, maintenance, demolition, renovation or refurbishment. Asbestos can potentially be found in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000. Houses built in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are very likely to include asbestos materials. Asbestos remains in millions of homes, business premises and public buildings today.
Asbestos diseases are life-limiting, and in most cases, fatal. The HSE’s recent campaign, Asbestos and You, is also pushing the message that the risks associated with asbestos must be taken much more seriously going forward.
As we reflect on those we have lost through work exposure to asbestos, it is crucial to remember there is no safe or controlled use of asbestos. While suffering, disease and deaths continue, we stand with individuals, trade unionists, activists and victims groups who remain committed to preventing asbestos exposure and to eliminate all asbestos-related diseases.
International Workers’ Memorial Day events
Search for #IWMD events, or go to the TUC WEBSITE which has details of events across the country.
FACK- Families Against Corporate Killers
At many of the events this year FACK – Families Against Corporate Killers – will be speaking out on behalf of all those bereaved by work.
FACK was established in July 2006 by and for families of people killed by the gross negligence of business employers, to sit with families in the darkest hour and help them speak truth to power.
They have put out a statement to mark the occasion which has been written with love and understanding by Louise Adamson, a founder member of FACK, whose 26 year old brother Michael was killed at work in 2005. The statement is full of sorrow, compassion, passion and commitment for change, an end to workplace deaths so no one has to go through what FACK members have gone through.
This year FACKers pledge to continue to live the International Workers’ Memorial Day Mantra each and every day, as we forever remember our dead, and do our damndest to fight like hell for the living.
If you have been affected by asbestos exposure and require legal advice in relation to seeking compensation, please contact our Asbestos & Mesothelioma Compensation Team on 0808 252 5231 for confidential and expert advice. They treat every client as an individual and strive to take away the worry of a legal claim. Their services are available at no financial risk to you.