28 APRIL 2004



Each year on the 28th April trade unions around the world organise events to celebrate International Workers' Memorial Day. The purpose is to highlight the preventable nature of workplace accidents and ill health, and to promote campaigns and union organisation to improve health and safety at work. It is also a day to remember all those who have died because of their job.

IFBWW members among the hardest hit

Each year about one hundred thousand building workers are killed on site, and thousands more are injured or made ill because of bad and illegal working conditions. Nearly 300 people die each day from asbestos lung disease, most of them worked in the building trades.

Tropical loggers have about a one in ten chance of being killed over a working lifetime. Wood working machinery causes more injuries than machinery in any other sector. You can help to change things for the better by joining us in the IFBWW campaign for good, safe jobs.

The workers in trades represented by the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers do some of the most dangerous jobs of all. We are often exposed to hazardous dust and chemicals, including deadly asbestos fibres contained in building materials. We work at heights, in confined spaces, we lift heavy loads and operate dangerous machinery. These risks are well known and so are the solutions to avoid them. By far the greatest risk for our health and safety is the negligence of employers who do not comply with even basic legislation to protect people at work. Deregulation, subcontracting and informal contractual conditions make this situation even worse. Management has the legal responsibility to ensure that collective and individual prevention measures are in place to protect the safety and health of all those who work for their companies.

The solutions

This year, 2004, the trade union movement has made corporate accountability for workers' health and safety our theme for April 28th, reflecting the increasing interest being shown in issues of corporate governance and corporate social responsibility. The IFBWW wants to see more leadership from both private and public sector companies, and, if that leadership is not in evidence or has failed, unions want to see the punishment fitting the crime. We want to see more serious penalties for serious health and safety breaches - and, if the courts deem it appropriate, jail sentences for the worst offenders. That is the best way we can remember those who have died, and those who have suffered injury or illness caused by their work. And it¹s one of the key ways in which we can protect future generations and prevent further victims.

As trade unionists, we want to avoid the human suffering caused by bad working conditions. However, another powerful argument we can use with employers and the authorities is that of costs. Governments should be aware that the costs of occupational accidents and ill health are enormous­ around 4 per cent of the GDP at least. Prevention of injuries and ill health is a development issue. Write to your government with the following proposals:

• Workers' participation Trade Unions make a big contribution to the prevention of accidents and ill health at work. Trade Union Safety Representatives should be elected to represent workers interests on health and safety. Joint management­union Health and Safety Committees should be established, as is already required by law in many countries, at least for companies with 50 or more workers.
• Legislation on health and safety should be improved to at least meet ILO standards.
• ILO Conventions and Codes of Practice on health and safety for construction, wood and forestry should be ratified and applied.
• Information, training and advice should be given to employers and workers.
• Enforcement of legislation by government should be stronger. Employers who break the law should be prosecuted. Employers whose negligence results in serious injuries should face big fines and the threat of losing their right to operate a company. In the case of criminal negligence, where employers deliberately exposed workers to serious risks, they should face the possibility of imprisonment, as already happens in some countries.
• Contractual conditions should be improved to provide stable employment.
• Asbestos should be banned, and workers protected from exposure.

What you can do on and around International Workers Memorial Day

Local events
* Get in touch with the local press to let them know what¹s going on and why. Send them a press release, briefly describing any events which are being organised, and invite them to attend so they can take photos and interview people. If there has been a fatality, or major injury or a problem with occupational ill health in your locality, this may create a focus for the day.
* Memorial ceremonies in a public place, involve local authorities, plant a tree, put up a plaque in memory of those who have died
* Memorial services, candle lighting ceremonies

Workplace activities
* Organise to stop work for a formal two minutes of silence in remembrance of all the workers who have been killed over the last year.
* Organise meetings to give information on health and safety or carry out a health and safety training session. Carry out a walk through inspection of the workplace to identify health and safety problems.
* Try to get everyone in the workplace involved, including management.

National initiatives
* Contact your national trade union centres to ask them for support.
* Write letters to employers organisations asking them to comply with health and safety legislation
* Write to the relevant administrations who have responsibilities for health and safety, asking them to enforce the legislation.
* Apart from writing letters, it may be possible to organise a demonstration to actually deliver the letters to government and/or employers' organisations. This is a good way to get media interest, particularly if there is some symbolic activity such as lighting candles or laying a wreath, so they can have an interesting photo.
* Organise a meeting to discuss the prevention of accidents and ill health at work.

Please report back to us on your activities, send us photos . For further details contact:

Fiona Murie, Director of Health, Safety and Environment, IFBWW, 54, Route des Acacias, CH 1227 Carouge GE Switzerland.
Email: Website:

The IFBWW has a membership of over 10.5 million members in 279 trade unions in 124 countries around the world

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