At around midday on Thursday 28 April 2016 a worker, working on the new Queensferry Crossing, was struck by the boom of a crane he was directing on the north tower deck. The worker suffered severe blood loss and was unable to be resuscitated.
Making the death even more poignant the 28 April 2016 was International Workers Memorial Day. International Workers Memorial Day is commemorated throughout the world, the purpose of which has always been to "remember the dead: fight for the living".
On Thursday last week the worker was named by Police Scotland as John Cousin, 62, from Northumberland.
Reflecting on this incident and the fact that in 2016 workers are still dying at work is a deeply concerning, sobering and depressing thought. We should not live in a world where workers go to work and do not come home.
Sadly, it is not as rare an event as you may think. Last year, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) 142 workers died in a workplace fatality.
The Forth Bridge, itself, has a depressing history of deaths while constructing the Bridge. During the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge, which opened in 1890, 73 workers died. Another 7 workers died during construction of the Forth Road Bridge, which opened in 1964.
The construction of this, new, Queensberry Crossing, was instructed by Scottish Ministers due to concern about corrosion of the main suspension cable on the current bridge.
It is currently the biggest construction project in Scotland. The expected cost of the project of £1.4 billion and it is set to open in December this year. Work is usually carried out 24 hours a day and seven days a week, by different shifts.
The Health and Safety Executive is currently carrying out an investigation into the incident. A Fatal Accident Inquiry will also take place, in time.
At present the cause of the accident is unknown. As is whether or not systems or precautions could have been taken which could have avoided death. We consider that part of this investigation must be the extent to which, if any, the pressure of the December 2016 deadline is having on the workers involved – are there adequate staffing numbers, are they adequately paid, are all health and safety precautions that could be taken being taken?
This is a worrying time for workers and a death so close to home really makes you appreciate the need for strong health and safety legislation. Across the world we are seeing growing attacks on health and safety protection, including in the UK where the Tory Government have removed protection form millions of self-employed workers, and across Europe where the European Commission are pursuing a dangerous de-regulatory strategy.
However strong laws are not enough if they are not going to be enforced. That is why we need proper inspections and enforcement action against those who break the laws. The number of inspections has fallen dramatically in the past five years, however in many other countries enforcement has always been non-existent.
That is why we also need strong unions. Unionised workplaces are safer, yet the Government is trying to stop unions protecting the health and safety of their members by restricting the right of health and safety representatives to take time off to keep the workplace safer, and attacking the right to strike when things go wrong.
Building strong trades unions and campaigning for stricter enforcement with higher penalties for breach of health and safety laws is crucial. However everyone can make a difference to health and safety standards in their own workplace. Please take action, before it is too late.
Blog by Jillian Merchant Solicitor