Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A Better, Safer Way for Young Workers

Guest Blog, Laura Connor, Thompsons Solicitors

Work related ill health and injury cost the UK economy billions every year yet many employers continue to place their workers at risk by failing to meet their statutory obligations to protect their health and safety.

The CBI report that workers took 180 million sick days in 2009 with 30 million of those related to ill health and injury caused by work. The direct cost to employers of these work related incidences was £3.7 billion with an additional £31.5 billion being paid out in compensation payments to those made ill or injured by the failures of their employers.

Thompsons and the STUC have always shared the view that the majority of incidents in the workplace resulting in death, injury or ill health are easily preventable and it is incomprehensible, given the economics of health and safety failures as outlined above, that the current coalition Government is slashing the budget of the HSE by 35% over 3 years.

Young people are historically at significant risk of suffering workplace injury or being made ill by their work although recent figures published by the HSE show a significant reduction in fatal and major injuries since 2007/08.

The question that arises is how much that reduction is related to enlightened employers grasping the importance of providing health and safety training for young workers or, and this is the more likely given the recession, there are less people under 25 years of age in employment, therefore less opportunity for them to be killed injured or made ill by their work.

Employers may continue to moan about the cost of ill health and injury but for work related conditions and incidents the answer is in their own hands. It is vitally important that all workers continue to be protected in the workplace, especially young people. Far too many young lives are ruined as a result of workplace accidents and, in the worst cases, they may be extinguished and never be allowed to participate and contribute to society.

Unfortunately many young people are not aware about the legal assistance that is available through their union.

At the 71st STUC Annual STUC Youth Conference Thompsons organized an informal meeting with delegates to discuss how we could help the Youth Committee promote the importance of good health and safety awareness, provide a platform for young people to share their views on workplace health and safety and encourage young workers to raise health and safety concerns with their trade union.

From those attending it was clear delegates from all sectors - public, private and voluntary had experience from their own workplaces or sectors where they felt their employer does not support them. In one case a primary school teacher had been assaulted by a pupil in the course of her work. Unfortunately physical and verbal abuse against young workers is not uncommon as identified in research undertaken at Queen Margaret University as part of ongoing work between the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives and the STUC.

If you have any concerns, contact your union for advice. Thompsons offer their union clients, and their members, advice on most legal issues. As a young worker, you should not feel threatened or in any way inferior to those who may be older or more experienced than you. You have the same legal rights as every other worker. Austerity is not an acceptable excuse for unfairness or breaches of health & safety laws. Make sure your voice is heard and do not accept that which is unjust.

It would be good to hear from others who have similar concerns…..

Laura Connor, Thompsons Solicitors

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