By PAUL HASTE
WORKERS reacted with fury on Thursday after bosses made the incredible claim that unions were to blame for workplace deaths.
After the government revealed the failure of a voluntary code intended to reduce accidents at work, bosses’ club the Institute of Directors (IoD) bizarrely accused unions of “not being as committed as they could have” to helping executives prevent injuries to their workers.
IoD parliamentary and regulatory spokesman Alexander Ehmannit claimed that it was the fault of the unions that the code, brought in by new Labour ministers anxious to avoid imposing a compulsory corporate manslaughter law on the bosses, had failed.
Responding to the Health and Safety Executive’s findings that barely 33 per cent of employers in the construction industry – and an even lower number of bosses in the hospitality, manufacturing and transport sectors – were even aware of the code, Mr Ehmannit defended their negligence and tried to divert the blame onto their workers’ union reps instead.
Arrogantly asserting that “the unions have not been as committed to disseminating the guidance as they could have been,” he suggested that managers were helpless to improve health and safety in their workplaces unless pushed to do so by the unions.
Construction workers’ union UCATT leader Alan Ritchie lost no time in tearing the bosses’ feeble excuses to shreds.
“Either the IoD is too stupid to understand the purpose of unions or they are deliberately spreading misinformation,” he stormed.
Pointing out that construction is the most dangerous industry in Britain, with 72 workers killed last year and 79 the year before that, Mr Ritchie stressed: “We know that the failed voluntary code will not save the life of a single construction worker, but, while UCATT does everything possible to ensure workers’ safety, it is a undeniable fact that many bosses cannot say the same.”
Construction Safety Campaign organiser Tony O’Brien agreed, adding a blistering denunciation of “cynical and arrogant bosses who have been allowed to get away with a complacent attitude towards workers’ safety for too long.
“The law is a soft touch,” he explained. “When workers are killed on the job and companies eventually get hauled before the courts, the judges can’t send bosses to jail because the law doesn’t let them.
“As a result, executives have to pay small fines for taking workers’ lives that don’t make them think twice about what they’ve done,” he insisted.
Relatives of workers killed or maimed in the workplace insisted that asking bosses to do anything “voluntarily” was always bound to end in failure.
“Even the HSE recognises that at least 70 per cent of major and fatal injuries at work are down to management,” Families Against Corporate Killers spokeswoman Louise Adamson related.
“In most cases, the catalogue of ignorance of health and safety laws, deliberate non-compliance and complete lack of fear of the enforcement system and the enforcement authorities by employers, managers and directors is overwhelming.
“What is needed is a legal duty on all directors to hammer home to them their responsibility,” she demanded.