WORKPLACE DEATHS CONTINUE, TEN YEARS AFTER THE MURDER OF SIMON JONES
“FACK grew out of the campaigning around Simon Jones’ death which had a magnificent effect, especially the direct action. It woke people up to the fact that we could take on the companies that kill people and do something about it. There’s over 20 families of people killed at work involved with FACK, campaigning against unfettered and unregulated greed of business. People build struggles on past stuggles, it’s important to learn lessons from past campaigns – it’s how we get stronger” – Hilda Palmer of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK)
Ten years ago, on 24th April 1998, Simon Jones was killed at a Shoreham dock on his first day at work unloading a ship. His death sparked a campaign of direct action against the corporate killers. Ten years on and despite lip service from Neo-Labour, businesses still get away with the murder of employees and families are forced to fight for justice. Families against Corporate Killing (FACK) were formed as an umbrella group to help people who lose loved ones to workplace accidents.
Eventually bowing to the pressure from both campaigns and large scale corporate safety failures like the (ironically named) Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster and the Hatfield train crash, an offence of corporate killing has finally made it on to the books – just last week in fact, following a government consultation paper published way back in 2000.
The long-standing promise to punish directors who allow their companies to kill people resulted in nothing of the sort. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act has just become law to universal condemnation from safety activists and unions. The building industry union Ucatt’s general secretary Alan Ritchie said, “This Act will not save the life of a single construction worker. Only by creating the possibility that directors will go to jail will there be a change of culture in the construction industry.” He should know — last year 77 workers died in the building industry.
But despite all the tragedies, how does the workplace safety record shape up now?
In fact, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is worse than ever. Between 2006 and 2007, UK deaths at work went up from 217 to 241, an increase of 11%. In the same period HSE inspections of workplaces decreased by 24%, to the point where a workplace could expect the man from the HSE to call once every 14.5 years. Since 2002, the HSE has lost over 1,000 posts as a result of cuts. Go get them cowboys!
In Britain, a worker between 16 and 24 years old suffers a reported workplace injury requiring more than 3 days off work every 12 minutes of every working day. A young worker is seriously injured at work every 40 minutes. Workplace fatalities in this age range occur at a rate of more than one a month. And year on year, the number of accidents rises.
So the ability to more easily extract a few fines from those companies able to be unequivocally proven guilty won’t come as any consolation to the family of Simon Jones – or Steven Burke, a 17-year-old scaffolder who fell to his death from inadequately constructed ‘birdcage’ scaffold inside a giant sewage reclamation tank in 2005. His case was finally dealt with in February this year. Despite a damning verdict that showed the scaffold he was assigned to was a staggering 2,500 tubes short, his employers 3D Scaffolding Ltd were fined a mere £80,000 (and given 18 months to pay). His family stated, “No amount of money would bring Steven back or hurt the defendants whose actions and inactions led to his death, but the family feel fines should be much greater to bring home the full seriousness of what they have done.”
* For more see Families Against Corporate Killers www.fack.org.uk