The theme of International Workers Memorial Day this year is "Strong laws, strong enforcement, strong union". All of these are essential elements to having effective health and safety legislation to prevent workers from suffering death, injury or illness from work.
Despite the protections we have in place in the last year there were 142 fatal workplace injuries in Britain. However, in 1992 before EU Health and Safety legislation applied to British workers, 368 people died at work in a year. Halving the number of families that do not get to welcome their relative home at the end of a working day has to be something we value and cherish.
As with so many other benefits of our EU membership this is something that we might only realise was important when we lose it. All too frequently we see headlines decrying our Health and Safety protections, describing them as 'red tape', 'burdens on business' or 'wasteful bureaucracy'. It was these unthinking headlines that lay behind the attacks that the Tories make on non-EU related health and safety legislation.
In the years between 2010 and 2015 we saw a 40% cut to the funding of the Health and Safety Executive. This agency, whose role it is to ensure our protections are put in force, made it much harder for workers to get the compensation they should be due if they are injured or made ill the reduction of responsibility of employers. In a demonstration of the significance of the UK at an EU level that government also prevented the EU strengthening the protection for people at work.
EU legislation has forced the UK to strengthen safety laws for example in the construction industry, for protecting police officers on the beat and protecting against asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos is a frightening illustration of why we need to think of Health and Safety in the context of illness and not just injury. There are still 5000 asbestos related deaths a year as a consequence of people working with this material; it is sometimes decades before they become ill. The EU precautionary principle recognises that workers can pay with their lives when evidence is ignored or not gathered in relation to health risks.
This legislation provides protection against musculoskeletal disorders, noise, working with machinery or at heights and for young people, expectant mothers or temporary workers as well as sector specific protection for example in the chemicals industry or offshore work.
It is vital that we mark Workers Memorial Day and that we remember those who have lost their lives simply through going to work. But the best and most effective way we can show our respect for them and their families is to do all we can to minimise the loss of life and health in the future. For this reason alone we should do all we can in the coming weeks to ensure that we have a strong, positive vote to remain in the EU so we hold on to those laws that will save people long into the future.
This article first appeared on Progress Online