- ALAN DALTON
who took on deadly industries
Alan Dalton, the veteran safety and environmental
campaigner and under-their-skin irritant to dangerous industries
and their friends, has died aged 57.
Trained as a chemist, Dalton initially worked
in the pharmaceutical industry, but soon realised health was not
something made, bottled and sold, but was something won by informed
and organised struggle.
He paid a price for promoting this approach.
Over the years Dalton was sued and bankrupted for attacking the
asbestos industry, "greylisted" by the government's Health
and Safety Executive (HSE) for exposing its shortcomings and secrecy
and fired from the board of the Environment Agency for failing to
embrace a cosy but unhealthy consensus.
His transformation from chemist to campaigner
began early. By the late 1960s Dalton was the workplace safety and
environmental campaigner for the British Society for Social Responsibility
in Science (BSSRS). While there, he was one of a small group behind
a new grassroots safety magazine, Hazards Bulletin, created
as unions for the first time were given legal rights to participate
in workplace safety.
Dalton knew that the new generation of union
safety reps with legal rights also needed union arguments and support
to convert rights into influence. It was part of a grassroots political
awakening that was cautious of the "information is power"
mantra that spurred the emerging global environmental and workplace
campaign movement's "right-to-know" campaigns.
Instead, Dalton subscribed to a more political
philosophy. As Canadian labour academic Bob Sass described it at
the time: "Information isn't power. Information is information.
Power is power."
If he wanted proof of this, it soon came. Leading
the BSSRS asbestos campaign through the 1970s, Dalton knew the asbestos
industry had money and influence and had resisted successfully attempts
to impose stricter, more protective workplace exposure standards.
The industry was also doing a pretty good job of putting a healthy
gloss on what was already emerging as the most effective industrial
killer of all times - responsible for more lost lives than the Black
Death. From the mid-1970s the UK's national newspapers were carrying
full page adverts telling us "We need asbestos," a claim
criticised even then by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The industry campaign was aided by the co-option
of its scientific and medical critics. Many ended their careers
hundreds of thousands of pounds richer as a result. Standing up
to the asbestos industry could, by contrast, be costly.
Asbestos killer dust, Dalton's 1979
campaigning book on the industry's charm offensive, landed him in
court when he was sued for libel by Dr Robert Murray OBE, a doctor,
one-time Manchester University lecturer and government medical inspector
criticised in the book for his pro-industry views and advocacy of
asbestos "safe use." Dalton lost, although more as a result
of England's generous libel laws than any errors of fact, and Murray
was awarded £500. Murray's £30,000 legal bill, however,
left Dalton and Hazards Bulletin bankrupt.
Murray, later to become a paid asbestos industry
consultant, is now dead and discredited and Dalton's charges have
been repeated as fact in leading, peer-reviewed medical journals.
This moral victory was not much comfort to Dalton, who saw the asbestos
industry secure more breathing space for its breath-taking product.
It was two decades after the publication of Asbestos killer dust
that asbestos was banned in the UK. The global asbestos trade remains,
using the same PR techniques and arguments to push its products
to the developing world.
Bankruptcy didn't silence Dalton. Hazards
Bulletin was replaced, seamlessly, by Hazards magazine,
and continued to provide a vehicle for Alan's worker-friendly arguments.
Throughout the 1980s, as a journalist at the Labour Research Department,
a trade union safety tutor and later as a lecturer in occupational
health at South Bank University, he continued to champion grassroots
workplace and environmental activism.
His lecturing techniques caused some consternation
among the more blueblood parents of university undergraduates -
course work included placard-waving attendance at safety protests
outside the Health and Safety Executive and dangerous workplaces.
By the mid-1990s, Dalton was health, safety
and environment coordinator for the Transport and General Workers'
Union (TGWU), where he nurtured a new network of union safety reps
and forced environmental issues to the centre of the union agenda.
While at TGWU, he had little time for the prevailing
"consensus" and "partnership" approach to safety
that asserts safety is in everybody's interest. A committed trade
unionist, he believed people joined unions because they stood up
for workers' health and safety, not because they compromised all
the way from government committees to the shopfloor. In his January
2000 book, Consensus kills, he argued there was a straightforward
issue of profit versus safety. He said unions and their members
have to fight for safety - safety is a major reason people join
unions, stay in unions and one of the top reasons they will take
Dalton had many run-ins with government safety
and environmental institutions. Sometimes he attempted to bludgeon
them into submission - and he frequently succeeded. A three-year
stint as a "community representative" on the board of
the Environment Agency, ended in 2002 after he rocked the boat so
effectively and unremittingly he was fired.
He had many, many successes. When he became
frustrated at the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) lack of openness
about its enforcement record against Britain's workplace safety
criminals, he demanded the information under its "open government"
policy. Open government came at a cost - he was told the charge
for the information would be £226,399.41.
HSE was stung by the extensive press coverage
arising from this less-than-freedom of information policy, particularly
when Dalton reinforced the message with a string of successful Ombudsman's
complaints. HSE now publishes an annual online "naming and
shaming" dossier of its enforcement record.
Long before Enron brought a general expectation
of corporate accountability, Dalton was arguing for jail sentences
for dangerously negligent employers. At an HSE press conference
in the late 1980s he quizzed HSE top brass about why it was possible
to get jail time for non-payment of a TV licence fine yet no employer
had ever been jailed after the death of a worker - construction
alone was killing 150 workers a year at that time. HSE officials
laughed and said it was not possible under existing laws.
Over a decade of campaigning later, several
directors have served jail time under those same laws, and the business-friendly
Labour administration is promising a corporate manslaughter law.
Dalton could be tough on his friends as well
as his foes - "keeping our feet to the fire" - making
sure we remembered what we were doing and why.
Most of his real work was away from the public
gaze - supporting workers facing victimisation or work-related disease;
as an inspirational trade union safety tutor; providing support
to bereaved relatives with hard information and soft words.
In the age of mobile phones and wi-fi, where
a journalist could conduct an entire career from a Starbucks, Dalton
believed in face-to-face contact and backed it up with information
and support, in many instances for years.
His influence crossed many borders. The Kentish
Town house he shared for 30 years with his partner, Eve Barker and
their girls, Liza, Claudia and Nicola, was a global stopping off
point on the international labour movement circuit.
His three decades of campaigning were recognised
last month when he become the first recipient of the Construction
Safety Campaign's Robert Tressell Award and was elected as a Fellow
of the Collegium Ramazzini, the world's most prestigious occupational
Always forward looking, his latest project
was DIRT, a grassroots tabloid campaigning on behalf of people
affected by toxic waste - either in landfill or from incinerators.
He was working on issue 2 until three weeks before his death.
Alan James Patrick Dalton, born May 30 1946;
died December 11 2003.