Workplace health and safety campaigners, trade unionists, accident victims and the families of those killed in workplace accidents will gather in North East London this Friday (26 April) to mark the twenty-first annual Workers Memorial Day and “Mourn for the dead, but fight for the living”.

Since 1992, the Workers Memorial Day campaign has sought to pay tribute to lost lives and raise awareness of the hundreds of avoidable fatalities and serious injuries at workplaces each year.

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 to pay compensation to injured workers or bereaved families for breaches of health and safety regulations will reverse the decline in deaths and major injuries in the UK.

By removing strict 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.

20,000 dying prematurely - the majority are avoidable deaths

Anna Konzon, a senior solicitor from Thompsons, will speak at Friday’s event in Waltham Forest to mark Workers Memorial Day. She said:

“This week, the coalition government has made it much harder, if not impossible, for injured workers and bereaved families 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. 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,” concluded Anna.

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.