Report. On World Day for Health and Safety at Work, Italy takes stock of those whose lives were cut short because of their jobs. Of the 1,133 workers who died in 2018, most were in the South.

Data show the unequal burden of workplace deaths in Italy

The ongoing tragedy of workplace deaths in Italy is continuing unabated, as more and more victims die on the job, develop cancers caused by their work activities, or are simply unfortunate enough to live in an asbestos-polluted environment.

On the occasion of the World Day for Health and Safety at Work taking place on Sunday, the Statistical Observatory of Labor Consultants looked at the public data provided by INAIL for 2018 and drew a sobering picture of this daily carnage that the powers-that-be seem unable—or unwilling—to do anything about.

These are the numbers, in all their unvarnished horror: no less than 641,000 workers fell victim to workplace accidents in 2018, 84.6% of which occurred during work hours, while 15.4% took place in transit between their home and their workplace.

Compared to 2017, there were 5,828 more cases of injury (+0.9%), and an even larger year-to-year increase in deaths (+10.1%), especially due to the many accidents that occurred in rural areas in August among immigrant laborers. A total of 1,133 workers died last year (786 during work hours and the rest during their commutes), which means that 1.8 out of every 1,000 accidents resulted in the death of a worker.

The number of these tragedies was greater in the South, particularly in six provinces: Crotone—which has the highest rate of fatal workplace accidents in the country over the past two years (6.3 per thousand), Isernia (5.9 ‰), Campobasso (4.7 ‰), Caserta (4.4 ‰), Vibo Valentia (4.1 ‰) and Matera (4 ‰). The areas with the fewest accidents were located mainly in Northern Italy: Biella (which has had zero workplace deaths over the last two years), then the provinces of Barletta-Andria-Trani and Oristano, followed by Lecco, Trieste, Bolzano and Como, Cremona, Reggio-Emilia and Lucca, where the death toll reached 0.7 ‰. Naples is in 19th place, with 2.68 fatalities per thousand, followed by Genoa (1.79 ‰), Rome (1.66 ‰), Palermo (1.59 ‰) and Turin (1.5 ‰), while Bologna (1.2 ‰) and Milan (0.88 ‰) are below the national average.

The data from Taranto, however, is shocking on a whole new level: among the workers employed at the former ILVA plant, cancer rates have been 500% higher than the average among the general population of the city that had not worked at the plant. The estimates published in 2018 by the National Asbestos Observatory (ONA) confirm this alarming situation: according to the data from ONA, there is a state of emergency in Taranto, with 50% more tumors found among the employees of the former ILVA plant who were exposed to asbestos only in an indirect way.

The ONA estimates that during the period of 1993-2015, there have been around 5,000 deaths overall in the Puglia region that were caused, in whole or in part, by exposure to asbestos. This amounts to around 220 deaths per year, exclusively for asbestos-related diseases. Furthermore, the rate of occurrence of lung cancers is about twice as high as that of mesotheliomas (a form of cancer known to be caused by asbestos exposure), to which one must also add the other diseases caused by dioxin and other pollutants. In Puglia, in the period between 1993 and 2015, 1,191 cases of mesothelioma were officially recorded, amounting to 4.4% of the total number of cases in Italy. Over 67% of these cases were determined to have been caused by workplace exposure to asbestos.

Between 2006 and 2011, the number of deaths due to mesothelioma in Taranto accounted for half the number for the entire wider region. In Bari, the surveys carried out by ONA up to December 2018 have found 160 cases of mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure at the former Fibronit factory, a disease whose incidence is “still growing,” at an average of around 20 new cases per year.

Even more worrying data concerning Taranto can be found in a recent report from the Higher Institute of Health, which examined data regarding 45 sites which have been marked for land reclamation projects at the national and regional levels, including in Taranto. The mortality risk among those living at the contaminated sites is 4-5% higher than among the general population. Over a period of 8 years, this extra risk has been responsible for the deaths of an estimated 11,992 people, including 5,285 due to cancer and 3,632 due to cardiovascular diseases.

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