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‘Terrible tragedy’

Workplace death at Longannet power station underscores need for worker benefits reform
Ryan Fletcher, Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Last week another figure was tallied to the sad statistic of construction worker fatalities in the UK, following the untimely death of a worker at the Longannet power station in Scotland.


Behind the data for workplace fatalities are untold stories of family devastation: parents having to bury their children, wives and husbands aged prematurely into widows and widowers and kids who will grow into adulthood without their parent’s guiding hand.


Working in the building trade is the UK’s most dangerous occupation – 39 people died in construction in 2017/18 out of a total of 144 workplace fatalities – which is why alongside fighting for better health and safety on sites Unite is launching a campaign to ensure all construction workers are provided with death benefits.


The need for change is painfully clear in the aftermath of the death of the worker, who was employed by Brown and Mason, at Longannet.


Although Brown and Mason described him as a “valued member” of their team and the company was registered with B&CE – a nonprofit organisation that provides benefits and pensions to the construction industry – it would appear the firm neglected to register the worker for accident and life cover benefit.


Under the B&CE’s accident and life cover scheme’s standard rate, if a member dies at work their family receives £80,000 and if they die while not at work the benefit is £40,000.


The scheme, which is paid for by the employer, costs just £1.49 a week, less than three pence an hour for workers undertaking a typical 50 hour week.


Unite is demanding all workers in the construction industry are covered by the B&CE scheme or an equivalent scheme regardless of their employment status.


“This was a terrible tragedy and our first thoughts must be with the victim’s family,” Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said.


“While no amount of money can ever compensate for losing a loved one, if workers are part of the B&CE scheme, it at least means that the family grieving the loss of a loved one, will have one less thing to worry about.”


Swain said that all clients and major contractors in the construction industry must ensure that every worker is covered by B&CE or a similar scheme “regardless of who engages them or the employment status they are given”.


“Deaths and serious injuries remain all too common in the construction industry, with nearly one worker a week losing their lives; this is a real problem, rather than a theoretical issue,” Swain said.


“The question of whether all workers on a site will be enrolled onto the B&CE scheme should be one of the first asked when clients are awarding contacts, companies that answer no should simply not be allowed to operate in construction.


“The failure to enrol workers onto the scheme is unacceptable to Unite and must become unacceptable to the industry in the same way that not having the correct personal protective equipment is.”


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