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Stratford City Construction Fatality Follows Safety Warnings

In mid 2009 IWW members produced a report on health and safety at Stratford City. Regrettably, it seems their concerns about the nature of working practices on the site have proved well-founded. On 16th December 2009, Shaun Scurry, an employee of Firesafe Installations, died after suffering serious injuries in a lift accident on 9th December 2009 at the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre site. Shaun from Kirkby, Liverpool, was 39, the father of two sons and engaged to be married. He was reportedly trapped between a steel beam and an industrial lift when he was installing lagging to ductwork. The accident is being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive. In January 2010, the IWW members updated their report, which is attached.

The authors say that they have compiled their report using statements by both IWW and non-IWW members working on site. They allege ‘systematic breaches of basic health and safety standards’ which place workers ‘at risk of injury and death’. They also accuse the police of ‘intimidation of workers and harassment of union activists’ and point to the ‘exclusive sweetheart deal’ with UCATT as a cause of the ‘proliferation of pyramid sub-contracting’ on the various sites. Firesafe Installations was one such contractor employed by Westfield to install fire safety systems.

According to the IWW report, Mr Scurry was not being assisted by a second ground operator, as required, when the scissor lift was activated and rose crushing him against a beam. It goes on to allege that PC Harrington, another contracted company responsible for the management of this sector, then put up safety signs and fences, cleaned up walkways and secured ladders, which should have been done beforehand but had not, to give the impression to safety officers who arrived later that the site was well managed. As evidence of UCATT’s failure to properly represent the workers on site the report says that no UCATT stewards or officials visited the site of the accident to talk to workers or to investigate the accident. No information was supplied to workers by either UCATT or management about the condition of Mr Scurry. The report says workers have been angered by the behaviour of management and have collected over £13,000 for his family.

The Olympic Delivery Authority has long claimed Stratford City as part of the Olympic legacy and praised its partnership with Westfield. The IWW report claims that, contrary to the impression created by the ODA, accident rates are much higher than reported because site managers do not report accidents such as cuts and muscular injuries. They cite two reports, one by a worker on the Olympic Athletes’ Village site who was told to stay in the canteen after injuring a tendon so that ‘the absence would not be reported’ and another by a worker who aggravated a back injury after it wasn't treated.

Among other failings the report states that there are too many obstructed walkways, fall-through points, unprotected trenches and unsecured ladders and platforms, particularly in the sector managed by PC Harrington, all of which represent serious hazards for workers and have resulted in ‘multiple accidents’. This is an indication of poor site planning. Workers are not being provided with personal protective equipment, like dust masks and goggles, and are having to work long shifts with pneumatic drills, which may result in vibration injuries. The report contends that the proliferation of sub-contractors has exacerbated these problems. It also claims there is a lack of clean toilets, hot water and washing and drying facilities and that workers face harassment for taking toilet breaks and have had to work in wet clothes in the recent cold weather.

That workers may not be provided with personal protective equipment comes as no surprise to those who used to live at Clays Lane, the estate demolished to make way for the Olympics. In an email sent to Lawrence Waterman, the Director of Health and Safety for the ODA on 25th February 2008, (see attachment in link) I pointed out that residents and allotment holders had asked workers at Eastway and Clays Lane at different times ‘whether they knew what was on the site and they have said no. They were shocked when we told them about the industrial contamination and radioactive material and one group went and got themselves face masks. If, as the ODA says, this is a ‘heavily contaminated’ area then I would have thought some protective clothing was necessary. At one time workers were drilling on a site which was thought to be in the line of a possible migration of radioactive material but even then they were not using Geiger counters or wearing any particular clothing.’

Residents had also experienced contractors working out of hours and in areas close to Clays Lane, which they were meant to avoid under planning controls. They also demolished housing while denying they were doing so and failed to control dust causing severe problems to the Travellers living next door. The ODA failed to act to control any of the breaches of planning regulations or to prevent the dust pollution. Residents at Leabank Square have highlighted similar problems with ODA operations and also faced intimidatory responses from the ODA. There is nothing particularly surprising, therefore, to find these kinds of statements being made in this report.

Against a background of recession, companies’ cost cutting, blacklisting of workers and a refusal to allow access to officials of unrecognised unions, the authors are critical of the ‘practices of partnership’, represented by the domination of management and the lack of rank and file control over unions, in ensuring workers’ safety. A union like UCATT sees itself as a 'go-between', maintaining co-operation between workers and bosses. The report says that UCATT deploys non-elected stewards, who are appointed by officials, on the Stratford City site, which represents a serious conflict of interest. The steward who was responsible for the sector in which Mr Scully died was unelected. The report claims that these stewards are hand-picked, lack training and are moved from site to site 'with the clear understanding that they do not rock the boat when it comes to health and safety issues and industrial discontent.' The authors suggest the arrival on the site of mechanical and electrical trade workers has broken UCATT’s monopoly and there has since been an improvement in union activity, particularly in the case of Unite.

Over six months ago the IWW members warned that workers on the Stratford City site were facing serious risk of injury or death. Workers had also demonstrated in May 2009 outside the Pudding Mill Lane entrance to the Olympic Park. A local Respect Councillor, Abjol Miah, said then ‘I’m very concerned about the gagging contracts being imposed by the ODA on contractors and employees which potentially prevent workers from whistle-blowing when health and safety issues arise.’ He expressed his concern that ‘as deadlines on contracts approach the pressure will inevitably grow for corners to be cut. We have to have strong union organisation and whistle-blowing protection to ensure health and safety is not jeopardised.’

It is worse than tragic that these warnings have been followed by the death of Mr Scurry.

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