Thursday 28 April 2022 marks the annual International Worker’s Memorial Day (IWMD) where we globally pause to remember those who have lost their lives because of a workplace accident or suffered ill heath as a result of work. The theme this year for IWMD is “occupational health and safety is a human right”. Not only is IWMD a time for remembrance, it is also a time to give even more consideration to preventative action so that injuries and fatalities do not occur in future. Employers across the globe are encouraged use IWMD to review their procedures.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 142 workers were killed in workplace accidents in the UK during 2020/21. HSE also estimates that there are around 13,000 deaths each year from occupational lung disease and cancer caused by past exposure at work to chemicals and dust (such as asbestos).
Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic has also placed health and safety at work under the microscope. Whilst many workers in the UK were able to work from home during the pandemic, essential workers had to risk exposure to COVID-19 by continuing to attend their workplaces. Sadly, some of those essential workers lost their lives. Although most COVID-19 restrictions in the UK have been lifted and the majority of employers no longer need to consider COVID-19 specifically in their workplace risk assessments, employers’ duties to protect the health and safety of their workers remain.
Risk management is the fundamental tool employers should deploy to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. The aim is to eliminate or reduce as much as possible the risk of harm to its workforce by making sure safe systems of work are implemented and adhered to at all times. Good policies, risk assessments and training are essential, as well as the provision of protective equipment where required.
Policies and procedures for health and safety should be organic documents which are regularly reviewed and updated to reflect the assessment of risks. They are not static documents which can be filed away. The number of fatalities at work or as a result of work is still too high. Employers should use IWMD as a reminder to take active steps to ensure the health and safety of their workforce is a top priority.
A one-minute silence at 12 noon on 28 April 2022 will be observed across the UK to remember those who have died as a result of their employment.
Authors: Alec Cameron & Claire Maclean