MP WRITES: Easier to cut corners

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.

LAST week I wrote about Workers’ Memorial Day and expressed the hope that people would take time to remember those people who have lost their lives or suffered injuries from accidents at work.

Last Sunday, during the event and wreath-laying ceremony, several hundred people did that and came to remember, despite the wind and the cold.

Guest speakers at the event included Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union and Gillian Muir, partner at Thompsons Solicitors.

Gillian told the heartbreaking story of Jason Burden, a 19 year old man who was on a work placement in December 2011 when a piece of machinery fell from a bench and crushed him.

Jason had his whole life ahead of him, with the prospect of completing his BTEC qualification and having a loving family and girlfriend.

Jason’s family were at the service on Sunday and laid a wreath on behalf of Jason.

Seeing the pain and anguish in Jason’s family’s eyes showed to me how important Workers’ Memorial Day is and how important it is to keep the workplace safe.

Jason’s story shows that the battle for health and safety is not yet won. It is easy to think of health and safety as faintly ludicrous; as I mentioned last week, jobsworths saying that you can’t lift up a cup of tea because it might be hot.

It is also easy to think of health and safety as something in the past, that the battle was fought and won in the days when this country forced children up chimneys, or a long way away.

Only last week saw the appalling human tragedy in Bangladesh, where a factory making cheap clothes for the western world collapsed, killing hundreds of people.

The campaign to keep workplaces safe is not yet won. Only last week, Parliament had the spectacle of “ping-pong”, where pieces of proposed legislation are batted from the House of Lords to the House of Commons in a bid to come up with an acceptable solution before the end of the yearly Parliamentary session.

One such piece of ping-pong was the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. This Bill, which has now been passed into law, repeals existing legislation going back to 1898 and which has been agreed for over a century.

That previous law made employers automatically liable to pay compensation to injured workers or families who have lost a relative if health and safety regulations have been breached.

Now that is no longer the case. By removing what is known as strict liability for health and safety, that means that the law now requires the burden of proof to fall on the injured worker or the family of someone who was killed in an accident, rather than the employer.

They will have to show that the employer knew about the risk if they are to seek fairness and justice.

This change to the law makes it much harder for injured workers and families to bring claims against employers.

This helps negligent employers to cut corners on health and safety and makes the workplace that more dangerous.

This shows that there is still a need for Workers’ Memorial Day and the need to remember the dead and fight for the living.