International Workers Memorial Day - What's it all About?

International Workers Memorial Day - What's it all About?

06th May 2015

Every year on 28th April, we celebrate International Workers Memorial Day – a day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.  The day is used as an opportunity to draw attention to the preventable nature of most workplace accidents and ill health and to promote campaigns and union organisation in the battle to improve safety in the workplace around the world. 

The Workers Memorial Day was launched in the United States in 1970 to honour the thousands of working people killed and injured at work every years and has since spread to become a global event.  Since 1989 trade unions in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa have organised events on 28th April.  Workers Memorial Day was brought to the UK in 1992 by the late Tommy Harte as a day to “Remember the Dead:  Fight for the Living”.  In the UK, the campaign for Workers Memorial Day has been championed by the Hazards Campaign and adopted by trade unions, the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Last week the Bishop of Durham led a Workers Memorial Day remembrance ceremony at the church of St. Thomas, saying “Work is an important aspect of being human.  Sadly many die in their place of work across the world because of unhealthy conditions and lack of care.”

Here in the UK the International Workers Memorial Day was marked by events and ceremonies across the land, including services in Grimsby, Immingham and Cleethorpes to honour PC Russ Wylie, a police motorcyclist recently killed in a road accident.  Mary Vickers, Urban and Industrial Chaplain for North East Lincolnshire warned that “Remembering can be an empty gesture if all we do is look back.  It is important to look back but also to accompany that with action”.

This year’s theme for International Workers Memorial Day is “Save Lives:  Put Hazardous Chemicals out of Work!” in a bid to draw attention to the fact that the use of chemicals in the workplace can lead to cancer, heart, lung and other diseases.  It’s claimed that everybody is exposed to small amounts of chemicals in the course of their work which lead to anything from 13,000 to 30,000 new cases of work cancers a year and between 8,000 and 18,000 deaths.   

Haringey Trades Union Council took advantage of the opportunity to publish some alarming statistics from the HSE that revealed that the combined cost to employers in Haringey of ill health and injury is assessed to be a massive £20 million.  Haringey TUC Secretary Keith Flatt welcomed the publication of the figures, saying that they “underline that there is also a real cost to employers who don’t ensure that they have safe workplaces.”

We’re lucky here in the UK to have strict legislation governing health and safety in the workplace.  However, the figures quoted here demonstrate that we still have a long way to go in making the UK a safer country to work in.