All I wanted for Christmas
Louise Taggart, Scottish Hazards Trustee
There will have been empty seats at Christmas dinner tables across the country because loved ones have departed this earth too soon. A multitude of reasons for that exist, but far too often in Scotland the reason is work-related: an incident or an illness, caused by work, has resulted in loss of life.
And it may not be the one empty seat. Because, my 26-year-old brother was engaged to be married when he was electrocuted at work. So, it is not just him who we miss, but the amazing woman who was to be his wife, and the bouncing bairns they never got to have.
You could be forgiven for thinking that deaths in Scotland caused by poor work-related health and safety are few and far between. After all, the Health and Safety Executive told us that only 17 workers lost their lives last year. And in a country with a population of around 5.5M, that’s not that many, right?
But behind each one of those “statistics” is a family member. And it’s awful enough that 17 loved ones should leave for work, never to return home. But this is far from the whole story. Because, it doesn’t “count” those who die in air, sea or rail incidents, it doesn’t count those who die on our roads while working. It doesn’t count members of the public who die in work-related incidents, nor does it capture those for whom work is a cause of suicide.
When all of those individuals are taken into account, more than 130 workers die in work-related incidents annually. And that still leaves us to add in excess of 4000 people who die annually as a result of work-related illness, such as the cancers caused by asbestos or diesel emissions, or heart disease which has prolonged standing at work as a contributing factor, or the lung disease resulting from exposure to welding fumes, dusts or gases.
And it may not be loss of life per se that has been caused, but the loss of the life a person once knew. For example, where somebody has suffered a brain injury, or has witnessed an incident in their workplace and battles PTSD as a result.
While there are daily struggles to get through for those who suffer loss, this time of year always has a special poignancy. For me, it’s spending too long lingering in the “Brother” section of the card shop, wondering which one I’d buy him. It’s deciding on a “good” time to go to the cemetery and cursing the fact you’re taking your brother some floral gift or other, when you really wanted to be buying him the latest novelty jumper and a bottle of Southern Comfort. And wanting to give him a hug at new year, rather than stare at a gravestone.
As we head towards 2019, it’s typically a time to reflect, and to make resolutions. Often those resolutions focus on giving something up, or taking something up. At Scottish Hazards, a charity committed to improving workplace health and safety, we want people to concentrate on speaking up.
We want you to think about your own workplace. Have you said at any point in this past year: “that’s an accident waiting to happen”? If the conditions still exist that made you say that, we want you to pick up the phone to us, or drop us an email, and we can give you advice and support to help improve the situation.
But don’t just think about your own workplace. Think about the conversations you’ve had with your children, your partner or spouse, your parents or siblings. Do they feel safe at work? Is there anything they think could be done to keep them safer or healthier at work?
If you want to be able to give your family an extra gift to take into the new year, phone us for advice which you can then pass onto them. Because we’re sadly all too aware that people often don’t speak up because they are afraid for their jobs. They fear that if they speak up, they will be labelled a troublemaker and could lose their livelihood.
We don’t want any such fear to result in a loss which is even greater to bear.
Scottish Hazards can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on our adviceline number 0800 0015 022 which is open on 31/12/18 from 9am till 3pm and then again from 2nd January 2019 at our usual times: Mon to Thurs 9am till 7pm and Fri 9am till 5.30pm
We can also be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ScottishHazards/and Twitter @ScottishHazards