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Remembering the dead

Sheila Pantry OBE
May 2010

The UK's first official Workers' Memorial Day has been marked with a new website dedicated to thousands of people who never returned home from work.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010, gave the UK's workforce and others a chance to reflect on the many people who are killed, seriously injured or made ill while doing their job.

To raise awareness of this significant occasion, RoSPA's National Occupational Safety and Health Committee (NOSHC) initiated the creation of an online hub, designed to provide detailed information about dozens of memorial sites across the UK.

Compiled by health and safety information expert Sheila Pantry, the regularly updated electronic guide includes locations of everything from plaques to pillars, as well as photographs, details of temporary commemorative sites, links to other sources and a diary of events.

Among the many permanent memorials listed are those dedicated to victims of disasters at the Piper Alpha oilrig near Aberdeen, the Flixborough chemical plant in Lincolnshire and the Senghenydd mine in Wales. Yet for every catastrophe involving multiple fatalities, there are hundreds more accidents for which there is no memorial and which can only be remembered quietly by grieving families, colleagues and employers.

Workers' Memorial Day - observed in 19 countries - was first recognised in Canada in 1984. It won official recognition in the UK after a Government consultation last year.

Since 1989, trade unions across the world have organised events on or near April 28: the anniversary of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the USA. In 2001, the International Labour Organisation also declared April 28 as International Day of Action for Safety and Health at Work.

While the UK has one of the best health and safety records in the world, official figures show that last year 180 people were killed in notifiable accidents at work while more than 27,000 suffered major injuries. An estimated 800 also died in work-related road accidents. In addition, about 8,000 people also die each year from occupational cancers and lung diseases.

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA's occupational safety adviser, said: "The price of a workplace disaster is enormous, with each fatality costing society about GBP £1.5 million and each major injury roughly £40,500.

"Yet money is irrelevant when placed next to the heart-breaking pain of personal tragedy.

"The list of memorials on this new website is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the years many thousands of families have had their lives shattered by serious failings in the workplace.

"That's why the case for maintaining sensible measures to control health and safety risks is so important and mustn't be undermined by silly stories that suggest 'elf 'n' safety' has gone mad."

Sheila Pantry, a member of RoSPA's NOSHC, said: "The importance of continuously repeating the health and safety message cannot be overstated. Workers' Memorial Day and this website are important ways of communicating that message."

To see the memorial website


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Don't work harder - work smarter! Be ahead of the game.

Are you having a zero accident, incident-free and healthy year in 2010 in your workplace? Some would argue that this is not possible! But keep on trying!

And do continue to make plans for your campaigns for 2010 and beyond!