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Labour's David Ellesmere defends Health & Safety legislation

Last week saw a little known memorial day which ought to be better commemorated: International Workers Memorial Day.

This day was established in the United States in 1970 to remember the hundreds of thousands of people who are killed every year while they are at work.

I don’t know whether it was a coincidence or not but last week Ipswich FairTrade Group also put on a screening of a film called “The True Cost” at the Film Theatre. The film is about the environmental and social costs of the modern-day clothing industry as corners are cut due to the ever decreasing price of clothing.

By far the most obvious example of this was the horrifying collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh in 2013 where 1,130 garment workers lost their lives.

Huge cracks in the building had been filmed by a local TV station and the complex had been evacuated. But the management of the clothing company – under pressure to meet order deadlines – declared the factory safe and threatened to withhold a month’s pay from workers if they didn’t go back. The building collapsed the next day.

Subsequently it became clear that there were multiple breaches of local building regulations.

The building had been constructed without authorisation, on a pond. Four more floors than were allowed by permit had been built. Substandard construction materials had been used.

I often hear complaints about “Health and Safety” and how it is pointless bureaucracy.

We should remember Rana Plaza and think about what the alternative might be.

The London Olympic Park – a massive construction job – was completed without a single worker fatality. This is something we should be incredibly proud of and celebrate.

Compare this to the over 1,000 migrant workers that are believed to have died building the stadiums for the Qatar World Cup.

Lest we believe this is just a problem for other countries, remember that 10 workers were killed constructing the Channel Tunnel and that an average of more than 40 construction workers die in accidents in Britain every year.

New Health and Safety rules are rarely popular but we seem to quickly get used to them.

It’s only relatively recently that wearing a hard hat was made compulsory on a construction site. Now it would be unthinkable to go on to a site without one.

The laws to outlaw drink driving and to make seat belt wearing compulsory were both controversial when they were first introduced. Now there is a huge social stigma attached to drink driving and it feels unsafe to travel in a car without wearing a seatbelt.

These rules have had the effect that was intended. They have made a huge difference.

Worker deaths in Britain have fallen by more than 80% since the 1970’s.

Car fatalities – despite there being many more cars on the road now – have fallen by around 75% since the introduction of seat belt and drink driving laws.

So the next time you hear someone moan about “’Elf and Safety gone mad” or “the nanny state” just reflect on Rana Plaza and Qatar and consider whether we might not actually be very lucky to live in a country where health and safety issues are taken seriously.

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