Commentary. Since this is a slow-moving massacre, we should no longer use the euphemistic expression “white deaths” for deaths at the workplace. These are nothing short of “white murders.”

17,000 Italian workers have died on the job in the last decade

It is a slow-motion massacre: 17,000 dead since 2009, with 1,133 just in 2018 and 600,000 injured. Since Sept. 10, the day when the new government took office, there have been 57 workplace deaths, a number which goes up to 123 if we include those who died while getting to and from work. 

Eighteen workers have been crushed by tractors since Teresa Bellanova took over the Ministry of Agriculture. In 2019 so far, 122 people have been crushed to death by this iconic agricultural machinery which today has become a killing machine, as we read on the “Independent observatory of workplace deaths in Bologna” blog maintained by Carlo Soricelli, a retired metalworker who is now a painter. 

One of the latest victims died on Oct. 11, in Roffia in the municipality of San Miniato near Pisa, where a 57-year-old worker died while maintaining an oil pipeline running through the countryside. He got stuck in a wood grinder. We are accustomed to experiencing life through a screen — can we still imagine, in concrete terms, what it’s like to die torn up by a wood grinder? Or crushed by a tractor?

Let’s review the summer that just ended:

Aug. 7: a man died close to Ferrara after a strap failed while he was loading a heavy weight on a truck. 

Aug. 9: a construction worker died struck by an iron girder in the province of Bergamo, and a worker in Cremona died while unloading steel beams. 

Aug. 14: a worker died crushed by a platform in the province of Bergamo. 

Aug. 16: a worker died after falling from a ladder at a logistics company on the outskirts of Piacenza. 

Aug. 17: a worker died on a construction site in the region of Cosenza, after he got his head stuck between a container and the driver’s cabin. 

Aug. 20: a construction worker fell to his death from a terrace in the Catania region. 

Aug. 26: in the L’Aquila region, a man lost his life crushed by the platform of a truck that he was repairing. 

Aug. 30: Three workers died in Frusinate, Varese and Latina. 

A litany of horrors that cannot fail to move us—especially when you realize that these casualty numbers are actually lower than during the same month in 2018, which was marred by a shocking series of multiple-casualty accidents that killed workers in Apulia (16) and in Genoa, with the collapse of the Morandi bridge. Among the victims who died in August, 15 were on their way to and from the workplace, according to data presented by INAIL.

This heavy burden loomed over the 69th Workplace Victims Day, organized on Sunday by the Association of Amputees and Disabled Persons from Workplace Accidents (ANMIL) under the patronage of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella. A national event was held in Palermo, with many local initiatives throughout the country. It also featured an awareness campaign: “Let’s stop with the fairy tales: sometimes at work there is no happy ending.” 

“The number of fatal accidents has increased by 6% compared to last year, with an average of more than three deaths per day,” says ANMIL president Zoello Forni. ANMIL believes it is necessary to change the unified law on workplace accident insurance, whose current version dates back to 1965. The conditions of production have changed since then. Today, workers are forced to contend with an instability and work flexibility which are often the causes of accidents and deaths. Such a change would require a transformation of the social security and welfare system, a “comprehensive reform” that seems far removed from the plans of the government, which only has a “strategic plan for workplace safety” in mind. 

The Labor Minister, Nunzia Catalfo, has convened a round table with the Ministry of Health and the social welfare partner institutions: INAIL, the National Labor Inspectorate (INL) and INPS, which will discuss the coordination of databases on workplace safety and training, the selection of companies with a good workplace safety record for the awarding of public contracts and the recruitment of more personnel at the Labor Inspectorate. “What we are seeing is a massacre,” says Maurizio Landini, the secretary of CGIL. “People keep dying just like they did 40, 50 years ago. There is a problem with training: it must be undertaken both by those who start a new job and by entrepreneurs as well, since we are also talking about many small and medium enterprises. We have also asked to introduce a system of penalty points for businesses.”

Today, we have comprehensive documentation at our disposal that allows us to come to conclusions about the causes and effects of what is happening. The last INL report showed that the number of workplace inspections fell by 9% this year, although the number of irregularities found has increased (by 3%), while complaints for illegal employment have shot up to 263, more than three times as many as in 2018. The number of people who were found to be working off the books has increased, from 20,398 to 23,300. 

The claims for occupational diseases have also grown slightly, together with the expansion of “listed” diseases for which the burden of proof is not on the workers—INAIL reports around 41,000 cases, 800 more than in 2018. Occupational disease claims are growing in industry and services, while the number for agriculture—where there are many occupational diseases that affect the musculo-skeletal system—actually dropped. In 2019, the number of deadly accidents in agriculture also increased: 16 agricultural workers died between January and August.

Since this is a slow-moving massacre, we should no longer use the euphemistic expression “white deaths” for deaths at the workplace. These are nothing short of “white murders.” People are dying because of work, and they’re also dying because they don’t have work. And all the talk about “safety” doesn’t actually bring more safety. Every day claims its grim tribute of human lives. Such “work” is a curse, a story of endless trials without redemption, a cry of powerlessness, pain and rage. Workplace illness, illegal hiring, illegal labor, exploitation—this is the vocabulary through which it all plays out. And it is no random accident: we cannot pin this on the Three Fates of Greek tragedy. It is a system. It’s called ‘capitalism.’

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