Remember the dead: Fight for the living is the slogan of the international Workers’ Memorial Day (WMD), an event falling on April 28th annually.

WMD began in Canada with the Canadian Union of Public Employees in 1984, and the Canadian Labour Congress declaration of an annual day of remembrance on April 28th the following year. In 1991 the Canadian Parliament passed an act marking this date as a National Day of Mourning. Since this time, WMD has spread across the world.

I became involved in this through a friend, Helen, whose husband was killed in an incident at work some years ago. Over the last few years we have marked each WMD in different ways, trying to raise the profile of the event in west Cornwall and beyond.

Although WMD was little known hereabouts before Helen and I started promoting it, the issue of work-related illness or injury, disease or death  is no stranger to west Cornwall with our industrial traditions of fishing, mining, quarrying and agriculture .

Three years ago we planted a tree in Penlee Park, Penzance to  serve as a living memorial and we hold a short service there annually. This year it was a delight to see the tree in flower, and we are grateful for the support of the Town Council and the presence always of the park’s gardeners at the event.  On the Sunday nearest the day, we hold a service at Trinity Church, Newlyn at which there is opportunity to remember those who have died at work.

While we do not want to forget those who have died, WMD is not only about looking back. We owe it to those who have died and to those working today and in the future to ensure work is as safe as possible.

To that end, WMD is also about raising awareness of continuing workplace safety issues. This matters because of the widespread idea that Health and Safety is some sort of joke or “political correctness gone mad” that has no bearing on the real world; and also the view within government circles that such regulations are a burden on business. If regulations are removed and inspections withdrawn or reduced, any advantage for business and profit may be bought at the expense of workers’ lives or well-being.

The cost of poor working conditions has both human and economic elements:

  • 1.2 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness.
  • 171 workers killed at work.
  • 115 000 injuries were reported under RIDDOR.
  • 200 000 reportable injuries (over 3 day absence) occurred (LFS).
  • 26.4 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury.
  • Workplace injuries and ill health (excluding cancer) cost society an estimated £14 billion (in 2009/10)

(Table from the HSE: see link below)

WMD: a chance to remember, but a chance also to campaign for safer workplaces today and in the future.

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”

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