International Workers Memorial Day – remember the past while aiming for a safer future 

Work safety

Today is International Workers Memorial Day – a global act of remembrance which commemorates those who sadly lost their lives at work.

It started in the United States in 1989 but has now been embraced by all nationalities and all industries as a poignant marker on the journey to improving workplace safety.

You only need to look at the latest Health & Safety Executive data to understand why millions are campaigning this year under the banner “Make Occupational Health and Safety a fundamental right at work”.

Annual statistics relating to UK workplace safety shows us: 

  • Ill health increased to 1.7m in 2020/21 – the year before there were 1.6m
  • Stress, depression or anxiety rose by 200,000 bringing the current level to 800,000 cases
  • And while non-fatal injuries fell to 400,000 cases the number of fatalities has increased by 31 – rising from 111 in 2019/20 to 142 in 2020/21.

The increase of stress, depression or anxiety in the workplace has been evident over several years. 

Factors that contribute to such conditions are commonly linked to increased workloads, lack of support and bullying.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic also had an impact.

HSE officials estimate 93,000 contracted coronavirus at work while 645,000 more are believed to have developed a work-related illness which was caused or made worse during the pandemic.

But behind these numbers are things far more important – people.

Each reported case – whether a fatality, accident or occurrence of ill-health – there is a person or family battling through trauma.

These struggles – like the conditions they suffer from – are very real and can have devastating impacts on all affected. 

This is why we cannot have anyone ignoring or being complacent with workplace health and safety. 

The challenge of dealing with the human and personal elements of this is huge. The psychological effects on so many of our society, but especially within the workplace, will be amongst the most important of the priorities that we require to deal with.

It is clear that making occupational health and safety a fundamental right at work is of even more crucial relevance than ever.

Gordon Dalyell

Gordon Dalyell, Partner
Edinburgh office