Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/865/21124
Workplace health and safety
Tory cuts and attacks on unions imperil workers
Paul Gerrard, Salford Socialist Party
In December 2012, 16 year old Cameron Minshull of Bury, Greater Manchester, started work at Huntley Mount Engineering. He was over the moon and his mum was so pleased she drove him to work every day. Five weeks later he was dead, killed by the lathe he worked on.
Cameron was untrained and unsupervised. All the lathes had had their guards disabled, and Cameron's sleeve had caught in the machinery, drawing him in and causing fatal head injuries.
It's rare for bosses to be sent to prison for health and safety infringements, even those leading to a death, but this one was. On 14 July 2015 a court sentenced the director to eight months imprisonment and banned him from being a director for ten years. The company was fined £150,000 and the recruitment agency which promised Cameron an 'apprenticeship' was fined £75,000.
In the week this sentence was handed down a massive explosion at a wood flour mill in Bosley, Cheshire, reduced the building to rubble, killing four employees.
The plant, owned by Wood Treatment Ltd, had experienced two fires in 2010 and 2012. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had served Improvement Notices on them in 2013 and 2014 for failing to control the exposure of workers to wood dust, and for failing to reduce the risk of fire or explosion from liquid petroleum gas stored at the plant. The brother of one of the victims said this was an accident waiting to happen.
There have been at least nine work-related deaths in recent weeks. A sign of things to come? Especially given that Prime Minister David Cameron has made it his mission to rid the UK of "red tape", for which read "health and safety".
The HSE has had its budget cut by a third over the last two years, following a major re-organisation under Labour which saw, among others, offices in Manchester and Preston close.
The Tories have restricted preventative inspections to five sectors classified as 'high risk', so employers in other sectors need not fear a HSE phone call.
Role of unions
The HSE has also had a 'growth agenda' imposed on them, ie nothing the HSE does should impede the expansion of the economy and jobs growth. Bosley, on the other hand, now has four deaths to mourn and 50 mill workers without jobs to go to.
The Health and Safety at Work Act was only ever a lever in the battle with the employers. Workers' health at work depends on the strength of the trade unions and active safety reps and stewards.
However, union recognition and reps' facility time are under attack across virtually all workplaces, despite facing corner cutting and super-exploitation on a massive scale through 24/7 operation, zero-hour contracts, etc. The defence of health and safety at work must be part of the campaign to build fighting trade unions which will use their power to bring employers and the Tories to heel.
'We are in a fight for our lives'
Hilda Palmer of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) told the Socialist: "Good health and safety at work will not survive another five years. If we don't fight for our lives now there will be no health, no safety, and no justice at work, for us, our children and their children. Another five years of Tory misrule risks setting in stone the rowing back of all that was hard won by generations of workers and their unions fighting together for the good of all workers."
FACK campaigns to stop workers and others being killed in preventable work incidents and supports bereaved families.
Contact them at: www.fack.org.uk
In The Socialist 29 July 2015:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
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