A memorial with a broken column stands in the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral. It was erected for two young workers who were killed in the building of the city’s Town Hall in 1833.
The number of people killed because of work accidents in UK (about 250 per year) is now much lower than it used to be, but there are rising trends of danger among those working ‘on the fringes of the economy’: in casual work, self-employment and the gig economy.
But by far the biggest cause of workplace-related death is mesothelioma (caused by asbestos). About 2,500 people a year are dying from this– nearly twice the number of people killed in road accidents. The BBC recently reported that 80-90% of schools in Birmingham and Solihull still contain asbestos. The numbers of people suffering from asbestos-related illnesses still rises: there could be up to 10,000 such illnesses in the UK annually by the year 2020.
It is thought likely that injuries to ‘gig-economy’ workers are likely to be under-reported. Despite the campaigning work by unions and public health workers, the increasing casualisation of work appears to be making work less safe. The 2018-19 figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that people who are ‘self-employed’ are twice as likely to be killed in the course of their work than those who are employed. Casual workers may be less likely to report problems because of job insecurity fears.
Only 25% of couriers – on bicycles or vans – believe that their employers cared about their safety. In their research, London University found that de-regulation over the last few years has left self-employed couriers and taxi drivers at an increased risk of exploitation. The Health and Safety Executive has regulations on safety at work, but these don’t apply to those whose work takes place on public highways.
Campaigners also question the higher rate of injuries sustained by newly immigrated people.
Please continue to pray for us, the workplaces we visit and all aspects of working life.