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UK: Health and Safety is won through struggle – FBU – #iwmd23

Remember the dead, fight for the living

On International Workers’ Memorial day, FBU National Officer Riccardo La Torre reflects on how health and safety has been won by struggle and solidarity, not gifted by bosses. 

If you visit the Fire Brigades Union head office and climb the stairs to the top floor, you will find yourself pausing in front of a wall covered with a long list of names. For those of us who work in the building, this list is a daily reminder of why we’re there and why the union exists. Each of these two thousand plus names belongs to a firefighter killed in service. It is in their memory that we continue to organise and fight for our lives.

If we had a national record of every firefighter death from cancer or other workplace diseases, there would be thousands more names to add. In 2022, the World Health Organisation confirmed what many of us in the FBU already knew from tragic experience: firefighting is a cancer-causing occupation.

Every year on April 28th, we come together for International Workers Memorial Day, to remember each of these, and all workers’, lives lost. If you work in the fire service, you will know that our memorials are not reflections on a distant past. The fight for safety and our future is sadly still very much an ongoing struggle which shapes our lives now.

For many, ‘health and safety’ conjures up images of top-down clipboard tapping, high vis vests and managerial risk assessments. In truth, workers have had to fight ferociously to protect our health at work, and for our safety from injury and harm. Nothing has been handed to us, nothing has been gifted by bosses. The history of health and safety is of organised, radical class action. In the memory of every worker who hasn’t returned home from a shift, what we demand for ourselves and our colleagues must stay rooted in this tradition.

Take breathing apparatus (BA): arguably one of the most iconic symbols of firefighter safety. The cylinder, set and mask are what allow firefighters to breathe safely during firefighting and rescue operations. But the BA sets we now wear on our backs were hard won. Following the deaths of two firefighters at the 1958 Smithfield fire, the FBU launched demands for modernised BA that would protect lives. As a line from the union magazine at the time read, “this is the age which has launched the Sputnik. But in the fire service our breathing apparatus set has remained substantially unchanged for over 40 years.”

We won that campaign and have continued to fight to keep improving our BA ever since. During my time as the union’s Health and Safety lead, I’ve seen bosses try to take BA away from firefighters attending high-rise building fires. I’ve seen them attempt to stop PCR-covid testing for firefighters at the peak of the pandemic, and to deny the link between firefighting and cancers.

These constant attacks are why FBU health and safety reps work tirelessly across fire services every single day. On the ground, our reps know that we cannot allow the rights we have won to be rolled back or blocked.

In 2016, the Trades Union Congress published The Union Effect, a report finding that the health of a workplace is directly impacted by whether workers are part of a union: ‘organised workplaces are safer workplaces’. In a profession as dangerous and volatile as fire and rescue, we cannot afford to let our organisation slip.

To make sure we return home safely at the end of each shift, we must demand safety committees,  our right to time off for training and facilities. We must use the Brown Book, speaking up for our rights every time they are threatened.

Right now, the need for a strong and fighting membership is as urgent as ever as we demand action on firefighter cancer.

Together we’ve already forced this issue on to the agenda. When the government and employers said there wasn’t enough evidence to act, we set up a lottery to fund and commission the research.

Where fire services fail to provide information on how firefighters can protect themselves from toxic fire effluents, we run our own decontamination training.

While there is currently no health monitoring for firefighters to help detect cancers early, we have now launched the first cancer testing research project for firefighters in the UK.

All progress has been down to firefighters organising and making it happen against the odds. But we’re miles behind other countries when it comes to legislation, protection and support for firefighters facing cancer. The US, Canada, Australia, and Poland, amongst others, all have laws in place that recognise these diseases as occupational – caused by going to work.

The UK government and employers are still failing to take any serious action. It’s our job as organised workers to demand, campaign for and win these protections. We’ve done it throughout our history, and we will do it again.

This Workers Memorial Day, we remember every firefighter who has fallen in the line of duty, and every firefighter killed by a disease or cancer caused by their work.

A failing HSE cut to the bone or NFCC bosses’ committees cannot be relied upon to protect and defend the health, safety and welfare of firefighters, in fact we often see the opposite. As our history demonstrates, it is often down to us, and only us, to organise and do for ourselves and each other.

No one, no one, should get ill or killed for going to work. Today and every day, we remember the dead and fight for the living.


UK: Work suicide – ‘This can’t continue’ – iwmd23

On International Workers’ Memorial Day, UniteLive investigates rising suicide rates in the construction sector – and how Unite members are making a difference

The construction sector has made significant strides in workplace safety in recent years, with the HSE reporting in 2022 a 16.7 per cent drop in on-site fatalities compared to the five-year average.

But there’s a hidden epidemic in construction – one that’s controversially not reported in HSE statistics. Even as fewer people die in workplace accidents in construction, the suicide rate has relentlessly continued climbing.

Since 2015, Glasgow Caledonian University and the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity have compiled figures on suicides in construction. Their latest analysis found the suicide rate for construction occupations in 2021 rose to 33.82 per 100,000 from 25.52 per 100,000 in 2015 – the highest rate in any sector.

These latest figures were published just two weeks before International Workers’ Memorial Day today (April 28) and serve as a stark reminder that workplace health and safety is so much more than simply preventing accidents in the workplace.

Suicide in the construction sector is both a protracted and complex problem – there’s no one reason that more people take their lives in construction than in any other sector, explains Unite national officer Jason Poulter.

“For starters, it’s a very long-hours culture, and construction workers are often expected to be away from home – and so away from their families and usual support networks – for long periods of time,” Jason noted.

Construction is still a predominantly male working environment, and with this environment comes many of the coping mechanisms that some men turn to in times of stress, such as gambling, alcohol and substance addiction, which often end up exacerbating already poor mental health.

“There is definitely a drinking culture in construction,” Jason told UniteLive. “There’s having a drink, then there’s having a drink  — going down the pub with your mates can be a positive thing, but it can just as easily spiral into addiction for some if they’re already under a lot of stress.”

Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset – the UK’s largest construction project since the Second World War, employing more than 4,000 people – was an exemplar of mental ill health plaguing the construction sector in the first few years that the project began.

Back in 2019, Unite told the Guardian that in the first four months of that year alone, the union had been informed of at least 10 suicide attempts by workers employed on the site. Since then, Unite and EDF, the major employer at Hinkley Point, have worked together to redouble their efforts to support workers’ mental health.

Unite convenor at Hinkley Point Malcolm Davies in particular hailed EDF’s mental health buddies system, which is a network of volunteers who are trained as mental health first aiders to provide support and guidance to their colleagues.

“We now have over 400 trained mental health first aiders on site, the most we’ve ever had – with more and more people coming forward to take part,” he explained.

Malcolm believes that what has made the programme so successful is that it has slowly but surely changed the culture at the construction site by removing the stigma associated with talking about mental health.

“People find comfort in talking about their mental health, especially when they can talk to their peers,” Malcolm said. “Our mental health first aiders are often the first port of call and can signpost people to the different types of support they can get. We also have an on-site chaplains, as well as an on-site surgery with nurses and doctors if people need professional, medical help.”

Unite rep Matthew, 27, trained as a mental health first aider at Hinkley Point just a few months ago, and said it’s been a very rewarding experience so far.

“I myself have suffered from anxiety and depression, and I also have family who have been through some tough times, so when I started to feel better, I really wanted to help others who’ve had the same experience as me and pass on what I’ve learned,” he explained.

Matthew noted while the mental health buddies system has been in place for many years, he said a vital difference now is that they’re a lot more visible.

“There’s hundreds more of us, and initially mental health first aiders were more office-based, but now we’re on the ground, dotted around throughout the site. We’ve got ‘time to talk’ rooms where we can sit and talk to people privately. Sometimes people just need someone to listen, other times we can offer guidance like suggesting time off from work, or signposting them to seek professional help.”

Unite rep Anthony, 56, will soon train to become a mental health first aider. Like Matthew, Anthony said he’s keen to help others “because mental health is something that’s close to my heart”.

“I’ve got a little lad who’s severely autistic, and when he was first diagnosed, I went through a really rough period of depression for about a year,” he explained. “I’d like to pass on my experience to others, and sit and talk to people, because that’s what I myself needed to get through the tough times.”

Anthony said he already informally mentors many of the younger workers on site and he can’t wait to be fully trained up as a mental health first aider.

“I’m 56 and when I was a young lad, you just kept things to yourself because otherwise you’d be classed as a softy if you talked about mental health and tried to get help,” he noted. “I think it’s absolutely great now that the lads are so much more open and will come and talk. We’ve got a signs all over the site here that say, ‘It’s okay not to be okay’ and I think that’s fantastic.”

Matthew believes that working conditions in construction definitely contribute to the mental health crisis many in the industry face.

“There’s a lot of long hours, weekend work, and working away from home that I think plays a big role,” Matthew explained. “You end up missing time with your kids, with your partner and parents and all sorts in your social life. You might be home one weekend, but the weekend before maybe there was a party and you just feel like you keep missing out on life.”

While Malcolm said he’s very proud of the mental health work both the employer and Unite have done at Hinkley Point – the union also offers separate mental health training for members – he worries that not all in the sector have access to that level of support.

“On large construction projects, especially in nuclear and petrochemical, there’s a lot more money for mental health projects, and for health and safety in general,” he said.

“I think it’s up to unions like Unite to make sure we’ve got reps on the smaller projects, and make sure we get those reps trained up on mental health. We’ve lost on average 100 people each year to suicide in construction – even one is too many, and it can’t continue.”

Jason Poulter likewise said Unite and other unions have a much bigger role to play to tackle the mental health crisis facing workers in the construction sector.

But he emphasised that it is absolutely vital that employers look at the root cause of this crisis and not simply treat the symptoms – symptoms that in many ways the employers themselves are responsible for.

“There’s needs to be root and branch reform of the employment models used in construction,” he said. “Requisite rest periods – they’re not happening. They’re not paying holidays. They’re not encouraging people to take time off. There’s no work-related mental health risk assessments that we absolutely need.

“There’s also the issue of bogus self-employment where workers are burdened with tax returns and having to pay for accountants, without any of the benefits of working for yourself,” he added. “Because the reality is you aren’t working for yourself – you’re under the instruction of someone else and they can fire you on the spot. They’ve blacklisted workers; they have a culture of fire and rehire – it’s the most precarious industry in the entire economy.”

Jason said that it is not until all these factors are addressed that meaningful change will happen.

“This is what Unite is fighting for day in and day out,” he said. “For every suicide in construction, how many broken families are left behind? This is a much wider problem than many people realise, and we’ve got to do something about it. Too many people’s lives depend on it.”

Read now via – UniteLive.org.

UK: Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living! – Unite the Union – #iwmd23

A day to remember all workers who lost their lives to workplace illness or injury, and to continue to fight for every workers’ right to a safe workplace.

UK: USDAW says a trade union organised workplace is a safer workplace on 28 April – #iwmd23

Date: 28 April 2023
Every year April 28 is International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD). It is the international trade union day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.
Every year April 28 is International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD). It is the international trade union day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.

For #IWMD23 retail and distribution trade union Usdaw is promoting the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) theme of ‘Organising health and safety within the workplace’. Making the case for strong laws, strong enforcement and strong unions to help Health and Safety Reps organise, inspect and protect.

  • Organise: Usdaw workplace reps have the tools, support and training they need to help keep members healthy and safe.
  • Inspect: Usdaw Reps can use their legal functions to inspect the workplace, investigate accidents and consult with the workers they represent.
  • Protect: Usdaw uses its bargaining strength to make sure that workplace health and safety policies are functioning properly. National campaigns, like ‘Freedom from Fear’ and a ‘New Deal for Workers’ give all workers a voice and to secure new legal rights.

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “International Workers’ Memorial Day is when the labour movement remembers those who have been killed or injured at work and those who have died from occupational diseases. So on 28 April we ‘remember the dead and fight for the living’ by highlighting our all year round campaigning for better health and safety.

“Health and safety at work is a right not a privilege. Keeping members safe is one of the key aims of Usdaw. This involves ensuring safe working practices and environments, safety training, ensuring the supply of personal protective equipment, and advising members and reps on all other aspects of safety at work.

“Usdaw has thousands of trained Safety Reps across the UK who are instrumental in maintaining a safe workplace and who work with management to prevent accidents. Usdaw also has experts in its health and safety section at head office who, along with the Union’s network of area organisers, offer important advice and support to reps and members.

“The Health and Safety Executive brings unions and employers together, but funding cuts and Government policies have weakened its effectiveness. That is why Usdaw is calling for a reversal of the HSE cuts. We also want to see more HSE and local authority inspectors to enforce health and safety law and for the inspectors to work with Union Safety Reps when they do workplace inspections.

“Usdaw Reps across the country will be bringing Workers Memorial Day into their workplaces, publicising the importance of health and safety and in some areas participating in public ceremonies and events. I wish them well in their commemorations and campaigning.”

Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 350,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades www.usdaw.org.uk

For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

UK: NASUWT encourages mass participation at #iwmd23

International Workers’ Memorial Day allows us to remember the dead and fight for the living

On International Workers’ Memorial Day, we remember all those who have died at work and reconfirm our commitment to fight for the living.

This Thursday 28 April, we encourage our members to take part in remembering all those who have died at work or as a result of their workplace environment.

All workplaces should be healthy and safe environments. Organised workplaces are safer workplaces and having an active union in a workplace:

  • helps reduce injuries at work;
  • leads to a reduction in the levels of ill health caused by work;
  • encourages greater reporting of injuries and near misses;
  • makes workers more confident and productive;
  • helps develop a more positive safety culture; and
  • saves the economy many millions of pounds.

Ways you can get involved with Workers’ Memorial Day

  1. Become a Health and Safety Rep or recruit another Rep – does your school/college have a Health and Safety Rep? If not, why not consider becoming one? If it does, recruit someone else.
  2. We’ve produced a range of Wellbeing Tools for Teachers that include advice on identifying and dealing with stress, mental health problems and violent behaviour in the classroom, as well as ways to access support and training.
  3. A key revelation found in our latest Teacher Wellbeing Survey was that workload is still the main factor responsible for creating work-related stress.
  4. Activists can use our Wellbeing at Work Audits (login) to help assess wellbeing in their workplace.
  5. Take advantage of our free Health and Safety training programme – Health and Safety Reps save lives and prevent illness and injury because they have specialised training.
TUC International Workers Memorial Day

  1. Find a local event near you or if you’re organising one add it to the TUC list.
  2. Hold a one-minute silence – join other union activists taking part in a one-minute silence at 12 noon to remember those who have died because of their work.
  3. Share images – raise awareness of Workers’ Memorial Day at work with the TUC poster and images on social media.
28april.org/ITUC A New Social Contract
ILO World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2023

UK: Unions make work safe

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) 28 April commemorates those workers.

It’s a time for us to come together as a movement and as a community. To remember those who have lost their lives to work, and renew our commitment to fight for the living and make work safe.

We’re getting in touch because there’s an event happening in your area. Click on the map to find it and don’t forget to RSVP!

View the map

Workplace deaths are preventable deaths. Trade unions will continue to fight for a future where no worker must risk their health or life while doing their job.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown beyond doubt that working people suffer at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

We must remember those we have lost and organise for safer, healthier work in their memory.

Can’t make it to an event?


Britain: Safety reps make schools safer

On International Workers Memorial Day, UK teaching union NEU says it will “celebrate the difference NEU health and safety reps can make in keeping staff and pupils safe.” 

Link to the NEU 28 April  poster

UK: Organising 101- Hazards magazine

Read the Organising 101 column by trade union activist, tutor and anti-blacklisting campaigner Dave Smith.

1. Using flower power at work
2. A walk in the park
3. If you want to win, you better listen
4. Blocking roads and turning a corner
5. Getting bugged by hot desking
6. Something for the weekend

7. Find a friend
8. Just ask what workers want
9. You gotta fight for your right to safety
10. Imagine you’re a tree
11. How to stress test your workplace
12. Unreasonable behaviour
13. Check your make up
14. Pilot study
15. All together now
16. Bright sparks
17. Corporate capture
18. No accident
19. Get back to the classroom
20. No accident [Part 2]


UK: Hazards Campaign resources for IWMD

The Hazards Campaign has produced a wide selection of resources to help  you mark International Workers’ Memorial Day effectively and visually including ribbons, car stickers, posters, bags, fabric face masks and t-shirts.

Download the order form here

Below is the poster – other resources can be viewed in the order form.


UK: FACK Statement International Workers’ Memorial Day 28 April 2021

Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) Statement

International Workers’ Memorial Day 28 April 2021

  • It is fundamentally wrong that a wife should need to write heartbreakingly about her 6th year on the grief rollercoaster, missing her beautiful angel husband so much with every passing hour of her life.
  • It is fundamentally wrong that a mum should be marking the 18th year since her 17-year-old son was taken from her, the pain she feels, never healing, instead festering like an open wound.
  • It is fundamentally wrong that a daughter should wish her dad a happy 56th birthday, while lamenting that he will be forever 37.
  • And it is fundamentally wrong that a fiancée should go from choosing wedding cars to instead sitting in
    a funeral cortège.

We FACKers are therefore at a loss to understand why we are even having to seek to convince the International Labour Organisation that health and safety should be recognised as a fundamental right at work…!?

Because of course it should!

Read the full statement here


Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living

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