A new permanent memorial commemorating the lives of all the people who died as a result of exposure to asbestos has been unveiled at a special remembrance ceremony today on International Workers Memorial Day.
The new stone carries two inscriptions, the first reads, “In memory of those who have lost their lives because of exposure to asbestos. In gratitude to those who fight to improve safety conditions for those workers and their families. Remember the dead and fight for the living” and on the other side it states, “Together showing our commitment to safer workplaces and communities”.
Barking and Dagenham have seen an exceptionally high asbestos mortality rate, a marker of how hard the area has been hit by the legacy of the Cape Asbestos Factory, which operated in Barking from 1913 to 1968. Health and Safety Executive figures show that Barking and Dagenham is the worst borough in the country for the number of women dying from mesothelioma. So common was the harsh cough, that sounds somewhat like a dog barking, that the phrase “Barking cough” was widely used to describe the symptom of asbestosis among the population of and around the former Cape Asbestos Company factory on Harts Lane. Residents recall that dust from the factory often fell like snow, and former pupils from the nearby Northbury School tell of having ‘snowball’ fights with the dust.
We owe it to future generations to ensure workplaces are safe and we stand with our Trade Union colleagues.
The unveiling ceremony coincided with International Workers Memorial Day, which takes place annually around the world on 28 April to remember all those killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.
Henry Gregg, Director of Strategy and Culture, said: “It was very important to us as a council, to support this special memorial for those who died due to exposure of asbestos. We know many people have suffered in the borough, due to use of asbestos, which is still causing pain and suffering for many people and their families.
“We owe it to future generations to ensure workplaces are safe and we stand with our Trade Union colleagues.”
Although laws were originally introduced to ban asbestos in 1985, it wasn’t until 1999 when a complete ban came into effect in the UK although it remains in use around the world and the World Health Organization estimates 125 million people are exposed to the deadly fibre each year.
The memorial was organised by Barking, Dagenham and Havering Trades Union Council, with the support of Barking and Dagenham Council, and has been funded by donations from local trade unionists, individuals and supporters.
Susan Aitouaziz, Secretary Barking Dagenham and Havering Trades Union Council said: “We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of trade unionists, their unions, and members of our community, which has enabled us to place a beautiful piece of blue pearl granite, engraved with a message of remembrance. To complement the memorial, we have also installed an interpretation board to shine a light on the harm done by asbestos, a scourge that continues to threaten us today in our workplaces, schools, public buildings and homes.
“A Book of Remembrance will be opened and maintained to receive inscriptions throughout the coming years, so we will be able forever to remember the names of those who have died. “