The family of a 19 year old man from South Shields who was crushed to death at work will commemorate his death on Sunday (28 April) at a Workers Memorial Day event in Hartlepool.

Since 1992, Workers Memorial Day has been used to pay tribute to lost lives and raise awareness of the hundreds of avoidable fatalities which occur at workplaces each year.

This Sunday, the family of Jason Burden will be joined at the Christ Church, Hartlepool, by their solicitors Thompsons, trade unionists, accident victims and other families of those killed in workplace accidents in order to “Mourn for the dead but fight for the living”.

Jason died whilst on a work placement in December 2011 when a piece of machinery he was using fell from a bench and crushed him. He was immediately taken by air ambulance to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle but died en route.

His family and girlfriend, Rachel, have been left waiting to find out whether their loss was due to a totally avoidable incident, as the fatal accident is currently the subject of an on-going investigation by the Health & Safety Executive. They will lay a wreath at the ceremony on Sunday.

His father, Trevor Burden, said: “Jason was really committed to his work and his study. He was only six months shy of completing his BTEC qualification when he died. He had so much to look forward to and it was all taken away from him.

“Workers Memorial Day gives us a chance to gather together and pay tribute to our son, brother and friend. We hope that health and safety issues are treated seriously by employers everywhere so that in future, people needn’t fear losing someone they love to the nine to five.”

Putting lives at risk - turning the clock back over 100 years

But, in the year the commemorative event comes of age, campaigners will accuse the government of turning the clock back over 100 years on safety laws and putting lives at risk with its amendment to the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill (ERRB).

They say that the vote by the House of Lords on Monday (22 April) to repeal the law which was established in 1898 and which made employers automatically liable for breaches of health and safety regulations will reverse the decline in deaths and major injuries in the UK.

By removing civil liability for health and safety, the amendment means that the burden of proving what went wrong will now fall on the injured worker or the family of someone killed, rather than the employer. They will have to prove what the employer knew or ought to have known if they are to recover compensation.

Green light to employers to sidestep regulations

Gillian Muir, a solicitor from Thompsons who will pay tribute to Jason in a speech on Sunday, said:

“This week, the coalition government has made it much harder, if not impossible, for injured workers and bereaved families like Jason’s to bring claims against employers, even if safety corners have been cut. This is a green light to employers to sidestep regulations specifically created to protect the health and safety of workers.

“Britain is one of the safest places to work in Europe thanks to a progressive and proactive approach to limiting workplace risk that had been in place since 1898. That is something which should have been championed, not destroyed. To lose someone as young as Jason to an accident in the workplace in this day and age is devastating and should put paid to anyone who claims that health and safety is a waste of time.

“Health and safety rules which allow workers to return home safely after a day’s work should be high on the agenda, not just on Workers Memorial Day but every day.”

According to figures from the TUC, in the UK alone 173 people die every year at work as a direct result of employers breaching health and safety regulations, with a further 20,000 dying prematurely following an injury sustained at work. The majority of these are not tragic accidents, but are avoidable deaths - the result of an employer not making safety a priority.