Belfast planting remembers the dead


Belfast tree-planting ceremony marks workers’ memorial day

28 April was Workers’ Memorial Day and to mark the event a tree was planted at the National Trust’s beautiful Belfast property, Minnowburn.

The tree was planted by Craig Somerville, Prospect health and safety rep and head warden at Minnowburn, in conjunction with Anne Gillan, National Trust for Northern Ireland compliance business partner and Prospect member.

Craig said: “We are honoured to plant and dedicate this tree in remembrance of all the workers who have lost their lives performing their jobs. In the past century huge strides have been made to protect the health and safety of our workforce. However, we must keep pressing on with our efforts to make workers’ safety a priority.”

The planting was all the more poignant as the location overlooks Belfast with its industrial heritage and iconic cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, now scheduled monuments.

It was in this shipyard that the Titanic was constructed and 100 years ago set off on her fateful maiden voyage.

During its construction eight people were killed, plus one during the launch. Over 280 injuries were recorded, many of them ‘severe’ including amputations and crushing injuries.

With the rudimentary safety provisions of the era the shipbuilding industry expected to have one death for every £100,000 spend. Trade unions at Harland and Wolff were strong and the death toll during its construction fell short of the 15 that would have been expected for the Titanic’s £1.5m build.

UK life expectancy at the time was around 47 years for men and 50 for women. A miserable existence for most was belied by the wealth and opulence enjoyed by a tiny minority at the height of empire.

Things have changed a lot since 1912, not least because of the activity of trade union activists.

‘Elf ‘n’ safety’ gets a bad press for many reasons but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Ultimately it is because of the work of health and safety professionals and trade unions over the decades that we now expect a zero death toll on any project and enjoy more agreeable working conditions.

Health, safety and welfare are everyone’s right and responsibility, whether you work in an office, in industry or in the countryside.

The tree planting at Minnowburn was to remember all those who have lost their lives and suffered directly or indirectly due to the workplace. Although governments may come and go and business needs may change, the health, safety and welfare of employees should remain an unsinkable part of any organisation’s goals.

Paul Stewart

Prospect National Trust Branch Northern Ireland Lead Representative

The purpose of the TUC-sponsored Workers Memorial Day is to ‘remember the dead: fight for the living’. For more information on other events around the UK visit:

For more information on Minnowburn visit: