Scientists at NASA built a gun specifically to launch dead chickens at the windshields of airliners, military jets and the space shuttle, all travelling at maximum velocity. The idea is to simulate the frequent incidents of collisions with airborne fowl to test the strength of the windshields. British engineers heard about the gun and were eager to test it on the windshields of their new high speed trains. Arrangements were made, and a gun was sent to the British engineers. When the gun was fired, the engineers stood shocked as the chicken hurled out if the gun barrel, crashed into the shatterproof shield, smashed it to smithereens, blasted through the control console, snapped the engineer’s backrest in two and embedded itself in the back wall of the cabin like an arrow shot from a high powered bow. The horrified engineers sent NASA the disastrous results of the experiment and asked the scientists for suggestions. NASA responded with a one-line memo: “Defrost the chicken.”
An HSE Inspector enters a workplace and sees a sign reading “Danger! Beware of the Dog.” He spots a tired looking, rather scruffy old hound lying asleep on the floor. “Is that the dog the sign is warning about?” asks the Inspector. “Yes,” replied the foreman. “Before I put the sign up, everyone kept tripping over him.”
Bob, a new health and safety officer, went into the works canteen on the construction site for the first time for a cuppa, he hung his coat and hard hat in the cloakroom and sat down. Unfortunately, the scaffolders always had a habit of picking on new employees, which he was. When he finished his drink, he found his hard hat had been stolen. Bob strolled back into the canteen, handily flipped his clip board into the air, caught it above his head without even looking and slapped it down hard onto the table, ’Bang!’ ’Which one of you pole jumpers stole my hat?’ he yelled with surprising forcefulness. No one answered. ’Alright, I’m gonna have another cuppa, and if my hat ain’t back outside by the time I finish, I’m gonna do what I did in London! And I don’t want to have to do what I did in London!’ Some of the scaffolders shifted restlessly. Bob, true to his word, had another cuppa, walked outside, and his hard hat has been returned to the cloakroom. He started to go back to his office. The site foreman wandered out of the canteen and asked, ’Oi, mate, before you go… tell me, what happened in London?’ Bob, the safety officer, turned back and said, ‘I had to buy a new hat.’
Health and Safety. It’s a joke, isn’t it? It’s just more rules and regulations to prevent us doing what we want to do and if you didn’t laugh at it, you’d just get angry.
I mean, you can’t send your kids to school with rice cakes in their packed lunches. You can’t serve pork crackling in a restaurant. You can’t place loose flower pots on graves. You can’t stock plasters in a first aid box. Council workers are not allowed to tackle dog fouling in children’s play areas. And finally, you can’t walk out of a shop with a new pair of shoes unless you take them in the box they came in.
These are all actions where H and S regulations were cited as the reason for decisions taken. They are all cases considered by the HSE’s Myth Busters Challenge Panel. And they were all found to be nothing to do with H&S legislation, and more about poor interpretation or worse, the law being used to cover other motives. As the panel concluded in the shoe box issue: “This is a clear case of the health and safety excuse being trotted out to cover up a desire to get customers to take the shoes in boxes to avoid the shop having to dispose of the boxes themselves. This is not a health and safety issue but poor communication and poor customer service.”
Health and Safety legislation gets a bad name because of such stories as this, and that just makes it easier for governments to cut or bad employers to oppose legislation that keeps workers safe going about the jobs we need to do to earn a living, or we need others to do to keep society functioning. In fact, health and safety at work is no joke and the annual Workers Memorial Day on April 28th is an opportunity, in the words of the slogan for the day,” to remember the dead and fight for the living,” to remember those who lost their lives just through going to work and to try to ensure our workplaces are as safe as they can be,
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Workers’ Memorial Day by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in 1984. The Canadian Labour Congress declared an annual day of remembrance in 1985 on April 28, which is the anniversary of a comprehensive Workers Compensation Act passed in 1914, which makes this year the hundredth anniversary of that.
It is interesting to note that 2014 also marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and we know of the terrible carnage that took place in that conflict. 8.5 million killed. 21 million wounded. That terrible slaughter uppermost in our minds, it might give us pause for thought to know that today more people die whilst at work than those fighting wars.
Workers’ Memorial Day has been recognised in the USA since 1989 and in the since 1992 In the UK the campaign for Workers’ Memorial Day has been championed by the Hazards Campaign and taken-up by trade unions, adopted by the Scottish TUC in 1993, followed by the TUC in 1999 and the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive in 2000.
April 28 is also recognised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as International Workers’ Memorial Day and by many countries around the world, sometimes as a national day.
Workers’ Memorial Day is now an international day of remembrance of workers killed in incidents at work, or by diseases caused by work, and annually on April 28, Workers’ Memorial Day events are held throughout the world. Some examples include active campaigning, and workplace awareness events. Public events include speeches, multi-faith religious services, laying wreaths, planting trees, unveiling monuments, balloon releases, raising public awareness of issues and laying out empty shoes to symbolise those who have died at work.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), across the world:
Each year, more than two million men and women die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases
Workers suffer approximately 270 million accidents each year, and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of -related illnesses
Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos claims 100,000 lives
One worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide. 6,000 workers die every day.
In the UK, Health and Safety Executive statistics reveal that 13,000 people lost their lives during 2012 and 2013 through work-related illness such as mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos and other occupational cancers.
Further statistics suggest that between 2011 and 2012, 1.1 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness and another 78,000 people had reported being injured at work resulting in 27 million working days being lost.
On Monday 28th April at noon, I will be leading a Memorial Service in Penlee Park, Penzance (we are grateful for the continuing support of Penzance Town Council with this) where 5 years ago my friend Helen planted a memorial tree as part of a campaign for work place safety we had been promoting for some years. Helen’s husband was killed in a workplace incident. On Sunday 4th May at Trinity Church Newlyn, I shall lead with Helen, a service remembering those killed at work. This is the seventh such service we have held at Trinity.
Why is this a matter for the church? On one level, we are often asked to support those who have suffered loss. We are often asked to provide a means by which people are able to remember in a semi-formal setting, to give voice to the grief and anger of those who are hurting. But it is also something else. It is a duty, a responsibility for those who call ourselves Christian. Early on in the Bible, that collection of letters, stories, songs and so on that form the place where the church begins its thinking about God and the world, about matters of love and justice, we find Cain killing his brother, Abel, in the workplace, out in the field. To God’s question as to Abel’s whereabouts, Cain replies, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The rest of the Bible provides many an answer to that question in the affirmative. In short, I am my brother’s keeper, and my sister’s and my neighbours. I cannot call myself Christian and be unconcerned about the safety and wellbeing of others. I have always been taken by the words of the prophet Micah that ask, “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Christians are not people who shut ourselves away in holy huddles singing hymns to keep us happy until we die to become happier still. Christians are (or ought to be) people who engage with the world as it is, in our understanding of the divine wrestling with ourselves and with the world in the hope and anticipation of justice and peace for all.
Helen and I often wonder if our efforts to promote safe workplaces and to remember those who have been killed can have any effect. But we do what we can. We add our voices to all the other voices around the world who are saying that when people leave for work in the morning, we expect that their work will be safe enough that they will come home again in the evening.
We do what we can to “remember the dead and fight for the living.” What might you do? Perhaps as a start, next time you hear something seemingly sensible banned because of health and safety law you might ask, “Is that really true?”