Analysis. The toll is terrifying: In the first seven months of 2021 alone, 677 died. Even protections on the books are simply not applied, as in the case of the Milan workers killed by liquid nitrogen on Tuesday.

After six worker deaths in one day, Italy questions whether reforms are working

People are dying, burned or suffocated by liquid nitrogen. People are dying by falling from scaffolding. People are dying crushed by a truck or decapitated by the blades of a threshing machine. Work kills—not because of fate, but because of a series of many concomitant causes, many predictable and others not. All of them, however, are created by the human beings who work inside and outside companies, on their own or as subcontractors, or as regular employees.

Jagdeep Singh, 42, and Emanuele Zanin, 46, worked for the company Autotrasporti Pe of Costa Volpino, which works as a subcontractor for Sol Group SPA of Monza. On Tuesday, they lost their lives suffocated by liquid nitrogen while transporting the substance to the Humanitas hospital in Pieve Emanuele, in the province of Milan.

The 52-year-old painter Valeriano Bottero died falling from a scaffolding while working for the company Lavor Metal in the industrial area of Loreggia, in the province of Padua.

Leonardo Perna, 72, the owner of a mechanical business, fell from a ladder from a height of two meters and lost his life in Nichelino, near Turin.

Giuseppe Costantino, 52, had finished loading and unloading goods in Capaci, near Palermo. He had gone to the rear of the truck when the vehicle started moving and its wheels crushed him.

Around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, the decapitated body of a 54-year-old agricultural worker was found in the blades of a threshing machine in Pontasserchio, in the province of Pisa. Firefighters were called to the scene to free the body, which had become trapped inside the machine.

In Italy, as of Tuesday, there are six fewer lives calling out for justice. Along with the other 677 who, according to the latest data on complaints submitted to INAIL (set to be updated on Thursday), were lost in the first seven months of 2021. They had to sell their labor in exchange for wages, and they gave their life, for which there is no price.

Faced with this conveyor belt of death, the situation is so serious, and the political, institutional and moral inadequacy is so profound that, on the day after the meeting with CGIL CISL and UIL at the Palazzo Chigi, the Minister of Labour, Andrea Orlando, felt the need to clarify: “A meeting with the trade unions is not enough to eradicate a scourge like this. Unfortunately, the limits that we are running up against today are the result of decisions not made in the past.”

No, one meeting is not enough. And the measures that were announced after that first meeting are probably not enough either. Many of these should have been adopted one, three, five or 10 years ago, back when there were thousands fewer work-related deaths.

The hiring of 2,300 new labor inspectors, for example: it was already announced three years ago that 1,400 new ones would be hired. A reform of the training of workers and entrepreneurs, sanctions to be applied as a result of inspections and a single database of the same sanctions—it is difficult to estimate the level of effectiveness of these measures. Accidents at work, particularly in the metalworking, construction or logistics or supply services industries, are events that occur as part of the ordinary violence of labor relations.

On Tuesday, two other measures were called for: “Contracting companies that do not comply with safety standards must be excluded from tenders,” CGIL is advocating. “In case of violations, fines are not sufficient, but the companies must suspend all production activities until they are in compliance.”

There is another problem, and it is a decisive one. Norms that are late but necessary can be passed, but then nobody will apply them. This was pointed out by CGIL together with the Civil Service union and FILCTEM of Milan, after learning the news of the tragic death of the workers suffocated by liquid nitrogen. On April 20, 2018, a protocol was signed in the prefecture in Milan—but it has not been applied since.

This happens to many other regulations: they are in force, but only on paper. A reality which must be considered when new protocols are announced. This explains the feeling of impotence, at all levels, that accompanies the daily deaths of workers (an average of three per day, while on Tuesday there were twice as many). In a post-Covid “recovery,” evoked as a godsend, this is the material reality: workers are left alone, and thus face risks. And death.

“We don’t have any more time, we can’t wait any more”—this was said on Tuesday once again. In addition to the establishment of criminal responsibilities for the deaths, we should act directly, with effective and radical decisions, regarding the responsibilities of the companies.

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