My Granddad was a miner. When I knew him, he had half a finger missing on his right hand. He’d lost the rest of the finger in an accident down the mine.
My other Granddad was a butcher. He had half a finger missing too. An accident with a mincing machine.
Great Uncle Tom had a finger missing. An accident in the factory where he worked. Starting to see a pattern?
Basically, it was normal for working class men of that generation to be missing a finger, or a toe, or have some other minor disability, thanks to a workplace accident. Deaths and serious injuries were rarer, but still far more common than they are now.
These accidents were entirely preventable – with protective clothing, or safety guards on machinery, or different procedures. But safety equipment is expensive, workers’ rights were low, and profits were more important than the bodies of working class men.
Today, in the UK, the number of workplace fatal injuries is 0.6 per 100,000 workers. (2010/11 figures)
In the USA it is 3.5 per 100,000 workers. (2010 figures)
Yes, that’s right, nearly SIX TIMES higher. In the UK 171 people died in workplace accidents in 2010/11. If we had the USA’s rate of deaths it would have been 997 people.
Now this isn’t because knives are sharper in America. Or workers more clumsy. Or bones more breakable.
It’s because we have better regulation and more accountability in this country and a pretty effective Health and Safety executive.
So Cameron can fuck right off with his ‘shadow of health and safety’ nonsense in his party conference speech. I think a much bigger shadow is those 800+ extra people who’d die at work if we had US-style Health and Safety here. Of course they wouldn’t be Cameron’s sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, so maybe he doesn’t have to worry about it. But I think they are people who matter anyway, and I think they are worth protecting.
UPDATE: I’ve just been told about this petition, started by Deborah Orr, for a national memorial to workers who died in the service of industry. We’ve got plenty to the glorious war dead, why don’t we recognise those who’ve died at work?