Sunday, May 06, 2007

Remembering the dead, and fighting for the living

IT was Workers Memorial Day on April 28. As in previous years the Construction Safety Campaign organised a march in London. This year it finished up with a short meeting on Tower Hill, besides the statue of an unknown building worker, which honours all those killed or injured in the construction industry over the years.
It was a warm sunny day. Watched by curious tourists on the open topdecks of buses stopped nearby, members of the Union of Construction and Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) laid a wreath by the monument. With the UCATT and Transport and General Workers Union members and other trades unionists were relatives of building workers who have been killed.
Among them was Kelly Ivory, a widow at 25, seen with her two children at the centre of the top right photograph. Kelly's partner Ralph Kennedy, a young scaffolder known to his family and pals as Barney, was electrocuted last September when he accidentally touched a faulty light fitting while working on an estate in Somers Town, near St.Pancras.
The light's earth wire had been cut. During the inquest at St Pancras Coroner's Court last month electrician Aaron Phillipps, who was working on the estate and inspected the light after Mr Kennedy's death, said the light may have been broken and the earth wire cut as a "quick fix" to prevent other lights from failing. He said: "A competent person wouldn't have left it in that state."
The jury returned an open verdict, having been instructed not to return a verdict of "unlawful killing" because no individual could be identified as causing Mr Kennedy's death.
The Health and Safety Executive has told Camden council to improve checks on equipment, and says it is continuing an investigation. Kelly Ivory's solicitors are pursuing action against the council for damages: "Camden must take full responsibility for Barney's death. They should be prosecuted under health and safety legislation for the total failure of their repair system."
Sarah Friday, health and safety officer of the Camden branch of public service union Unison, which represents local government workers, attended the inquest into Barney's death. She said council bosses are cutting the number of health and safety advisors from nine down to five. "At this time it's outrageous they should be cutting back."
Tony O'Brien, secretary of the Construction Safety Campaign, himself a building worker and UCATT convenor representing workers in Southwark, points to outsourcing and privatisation as a factor. "There was a time when Camden had a large, directly-employed, in-house workforce who would have carried out this type of work. If they had done this work they would have everry opn e properly trained. Safety inspections would have been carried out each day".
It has been revealed that as far back as 2000 the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) warned Camden council that it needed to improve the way it checks electrical installations.
(report by Richard Osley, Camden New Journal, April 26)
Meanwhile, we had a reminder on April 28 that you don't need to be employed in the construction industry to be affected by its lack of safety. Standing on Kelly Ivory's left in our photograph above and also seen wearing dark glasses in the picture below is Liliana Alexa. Her bus driver son Michael, 23, was cleaning the car outside his home in Battersea on September 26 when a tower crane on the nearby Barrats site came crashing down on him. Both Michael and crane driver Jonathan Cloke were killed. Michael's crushed body lay five days under the crane before it could be moved.
The 35-year old crane had been working on the site at the corner of Battersea Park and Thessaly Road, a brownfield site turned over to private housing. Falcon Cranes, who owned it and another crane that crashed down in Liverpool have been ordered to suspend operations while the incidents are investigated.
"Michael was a young man with everything to live for", says his mother Liliana. Now she is living very much for justice and future safety. Together with other residents she has formed the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group. Working with the Construction Safety Campaign they have held a ceremony at which a plaque was unveiled to the two men killed. "The plaque we are unveiling is a temporary measure while we're waiting for the memorial to be constructed. The fight for crane safety continues and the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group won't rest until crane deaths are eradicated."

Some other families who were going to visit the Tower of London on Saturday, April 28 may have paused briefly by the building workers' memorial to see what was going on. They may have wondered later why they did not see more about these things in the media, the TV news particularly. Likewise, across London in Brent, where a family day was held to celebrate the long-awaited opening of the new Wembley stadium, we might wonder if the death of building worker Patsy Sullivan, crushed by a falling workplatform on the site, will be remembered by a plaque at least, as Brent Trades Union Council requested.
It would have been nice to have something in place before Man United beats
Chelsea (what, biased, me?) in the first Cup Final in the re-opened Wembley on May 19. But somehow in all the hullaboo I've seen about Wembley, Patsy has not been mentioned. He was only another worker. Others have been maimed or killed since. The demand to remember the dead is part of the fight for the living.
MINUTE'S SILENCE amid the noise of London traffic. Joining with other grieving relatives and workmates, after her son joined the statistics, Liliana Alexa (in dark glasses) from Battersea.

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