Leading Lawyers Warn Against a Safety Apartheid which puts Migrant Workers at Risk

International Workers Memorial Day

27.04.2007

Leading law firm Irwin Mitchell is marking International Workers Memorial Day, on 28th April, by calling for measures to prevent a Safety Apartheid becoming widespread throughout the UK as more migrant workers from the EU Accession countries are employed in some of the country's most hazardous occupations.

The Government today announced that it was to investigate a BBC report which showed that migrant workers were being treated in a manner which was compared to "modern-day slavery". Undercover Lithuanian journalist Audrius Lelkaitis, working on behalf of the BBC, described migrant workers as a new underclass subjected to deception, systematic underpayment and appalling living conditions.

Adrian Budgen a Partner in the Workplace Injuries Department at law firm Irwin Mitchell said:

We fear that as more migrant workers enter the workforce, some of the country's most hazardous industries, a Safety Apartheid may be created. We would warn firms that this valuable workforce must not be given any less in the way of care by their employer through either language barriers or through any attempt to save money.

Duties as regards to health and safety are the same whether the worker is from London or Poland and employers need to ensure that their employees are adequately trained and that proper and clearly understandable information has been given to employees about risks to their health.

It is up to employers to ensure that an employee is capable of performing their role safely and that proper risk assessments have been carried out.

All companies must ensure that every worker regardless of age, language, nationality or experience is given the training and supervision necessary to safeguard them in their roles. No shortcuts can be taken, and no savings made, when peoples lives are at risk.

Workers Memorial Day remembers those who have died or have suffered and continue to suffer in their place of work. Workers will be remembered not only across the UK but across the world, as the UK day of mourning coincides with the international day of mourning for people killed in their workplace.

The focus this year is on highlighting the risk of occupational cancers. Statistics from the International Labour Organisation show over 600,000 workers die each year across the world from Cancers caused through their working environment, with more than 1 in 5 workers facing a cancer risk from their work. UK Government statistics estimate that 6,000 people die from occupational cancer each year in the UK and about 5,000 of these deaths occur in men and 1,000 in women.

Adrian Budgen continued:

Workers Memorial Day is a time for reflection, to remember those workers who have been killed through trying simply to earn a living. It is also a time to highlight safety in a bid to prevent any further needless deaths through workplace accidents or illness.

Occupational cancers include Mesothelioma, a cancer of the pleural lining caused from the exposure to Asbestos which kills over 2000 people in the UK alone - a figure that is set to rise. Other occupational cancers include leukaemia due to exposure to electromagnetic radiation or ionising particles, lung cancer due to exposure to silica dust, acute non-lymphatic leukaemia due to exposure to benzene, skin cancer due to exposure to arsenic, tar, pitch, bitumen, mineral oils or soot, and bladder cancer due to exposure to various compounds during chemical manufacturing.