Monday, October 18, 2010

Health and safety at work is no joke

The successful rescue of 33 miners in Chile should not mask broader issues of health and safety, and I hope that trade unionists and others will use the publicity generated by those events to highlight European Health & Safety Week (25-29 Oct).
Like everyone else, I’ve been enthralled at the whole story coming out of Chile and naturally delighted that the trapped miners have been freed and that they are now re-united with their families.

The rescue operation seems to have been a marvelous example of good planning, sensible co-operation and efficient execution and I congratulate all those involved. The Chilean people will rightly be proud of the men who survived in such extraordinary circumstance, and of those technicians, health professionals and others who have brought about a real “good news” story.

But let’s not forget how close we came to a tragedy; to thirty three families losing a son, a father, a brother.

And let’s not forget that thousands die in mines every year, through inadequate care with a whole raft of health and safety issues.

Nor is this just an issue for the mining industry or for countries thousands of miles away. There were 151 workers fatally injured in Britain last year. The figure continues to fall, as the effects of better health & safety legislation – largely from Europe – has an impact. But this figure is still too high.

That’s why it’s important that we use European Health & Safety Week to focus again on how we can create a safer working environment.

There are many who sneer at the very phrase “health & safety”, and I have lost count of the number of times Conservative MEPs have voted against health & safety measures.

The Chilean rescue must act as a reminder to us all. There is a very thin line between triumph and tragedy, and sensible, effective legislation on people’s working conditions really does save lives without the need for massive rescue operations.


  1. As unsexy and as uninteresting health and safety as an issue is, it is only when you are in that situation do you really appreciate it's value. My family have first hand experience of this when a mine shaft collapsed onto my grandfather, trapping him for 3 days. If the health and safety measures that we have today were in place then, I am sure he would have faired better. I cannot comprehend why the conservatives object to legislation that allows people to work in a safer environment, surely safety of the individual reaches beyond party lines and affects people of all walks of life.

  2. Health and safety is important. The problem is that the phrase 'Health and Safety' is used by those with a genuine intention of making things safe and also by the the assortment of kill-joys and regulation obsessives who force children to wear goggles when play conkers and instruct council workers to knock down gravestones in case a vandal gets an injury when vandalising them.

    The two approaches get mixed up and genuine, sensible health and safety becomes a joke.