Opinion: Remembering those who died at work

PUBLISHED: 08:30 12 May 2019

West Ham MP Lyn Brown participated in a Workers Memorial Day event.

West Ham MP Lyn Brown participated in a Workers Memorial Day event.

Lyn Brown

Every year on April 28, I try to participate in a Workers’ Memorial Day event, to remember those who died at work.

I visit the Helping Hands Memorial in the Olympic Park, to recall the story of Thomas Pickett, Godfrey Maule Nicholson, Frederick Elliot and Robert Underhill.

These four men had gone to measure the depth of a re-opened well at Three Mills Distillery. Tom lowered a ladder and climbed down, but suddenly collapsed into the muddy water below.

The well contained poisonous gas. Despite the danger, one-by-one his three comrades climbed down to try and lift Tom out. Tragically, all four of them fell unconscious and suffocated.

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They could have waited for help, but each one must have felt that if they did, their friends would have certainly died. Their solidarity was instinctive, immediate, powerful, and inspiring and we speak of their tragic deaths and sacrifice over a century on.

If you've never visited the Memorial, go. Two strong arms grasp each other above the wrist: one worker aiding another.

So many jobs today still aren't safe enough. We have made progress, thanks to our unions and good laws passed here at home, and because of our membership of the EU.

Workers in many other countries still face extreme and dreadful risks. Just last week hundreds of workers in Indonesia are reported to have died of extreme fatigue, whilst counting election ballots. Hundreds died in Qatar, building the World Cup stadium. Our Olympics in 2012 saw no construction deaths and historically low numbers of injuries. Workers should expect nothing less.

I hope we'll soon have a government who see health and safety rules not as red tape, but as essential safeguards: our common right to dignity and security at work. Until then, we must fight for a solution to Brexit that ensures health and safety protections for workers here at home don't fall behind those of workers in the rest of Europe.

Health and safety rules are essential so workers like Thomas Pickett, Robert Underhill, Frederick Elliot and Godfrey Maule Nicholson are never, ever, put at risk again.

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