Page last updated at 02:11 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 03:11 UK

Young 'so vulnerable' at work

By Victoria Bone
BBC News

Daniel Dennis
Daniel Dennis had gone onto the store roof to look for a piece of timber

As the British Safety Council says 66 young people have been killed at work in a decade, bereaved parents reflect on their loss and training that could have saved their sons.

"He was a young lad in his first job and he just wanted to please," says the father of one teenager who died at work.

But 17-year-old apprentice Daniel Dennis never got the chance to prove himself at his new company.

In 2003 Daniel died when he fell 28ft (9m) from a roof and landed on the shop floor.

His father Peter, from Bridgend, south Wales, had warned the roofing company that his son had no training and should never have been on the roof.

Mr Dennis told the BBC News website: "On that day we don't think Daniel's employer went out purposely to kill him, but we think he failed in his duty of care."

Daniel's father feels his life would have been saved if the British Safety Council's (BSC) new health and safety course for young workers had been around then.

He said: "I think if he'd done the course he'd have looked at that roof and said, 'No, I'm not supposed to go up there.'"

Others, however, think it is employers who need the training.

Barbara Burke's son Steven was killed in 2004. The 17-year-old trainee scaffolder from Levenshulme, Manchester, fell 50ft (15m) inside an empty sewage tank and died later from serious head and abdominal injuries.

He mother says he did speak up about the risks around him, but was ignored.

'Entirely preventable'

Mrs Burke said: "Steven actually told his employers it wasn't safe working practice a few days before he died, but they didn't listen. They just thought he was young and didn't know anything."

Steven Burke
Steven Burke tried to tell his employer he was worried about safety

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said at the time that Steven's death was "entirely preventable".

Three companies were ordered to pay more than 340,000 after a court heard the young man was denied the correct equipment and training, and the scaffolding itself was faulty.

"I hope the BSC course gives young people more confidence so they realise they are equal and do have a voice if something's not right," Mrs Burke said.

According to the HSE, young people are 50% more likely to have an accident than older people.

Industry magazine Hazards says it is the "novice factor" - inexperience not youth - that puts them at risk.

It means they are more likely than other workers to have been in their job only a short time and be unfamiliar with procedures.

Some other recent cases include:

  • Adam Gosling, 15, died last year on a north London building site when a wall he was told to demolish collapsed on top of him. He was unsupervised and had attempted the task because a specialist worker had not turned up for work.

  • Lewis Murphy, an 18-year-old trainee mechanic, was killed in 2004 in an explosion at a garage in East Sussex. His manager was found guilty of manslaughter.

  • Mark Fiebig, 21, from Cambridgeshire, died when his van drifted into the path of a lorry in 2002. He was driving home after a third consecutive shift of nearly 20 hours. His firm was fined 30,000 after admitting safety breaches.

  • Craig Gowans, an apprentice footballer at Falkirk, died aged 17 in 2005. He was electrocuted when training equipment he was carrying touched an overhead power cable. The club was fined 4,000.

'Power relationship'

Hilda Palmer, spokeswoman for Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), said many companies who take on trainees are ignoring their health and safety responsibilities, particularly the need for proper supervision.

Garage where Lewis Murphy died
Lewis Murphy died three days after the garage he was working in exploded

"Young people are so vulnerable in workplaces because they cannot stand up for themselves," she said.

"Unless the BSC course talks about that - the power relationship in workplaces - and about workers' rights, for example to refuse work that puts them in danger, then it will not be good enough.

"Of course, the real people who need training are the employers and no employer should be able to take on a young person unless they can show they are, at the very least, in compliance with basic health and safety law."

Brian Nimick, chief executive of the BSC, said all sectors, not just those most obviously dangerous like construction, need to take notice.

"It's impossible to say if accidents could have been prevented, but what we can hope for in five years time is that we will see a reduction in the number of injuries and fatalities."

But he warned: "Particularly in this economic climate the first thing to cut back on is training."


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