Report. We need to tell the stories of the victims as a way to try to do them justice when faced with unacceptable events, which are never the result of mere misfortune, but the singular and tragic result of how work is organized in our country.

New year begins with more workplace deaths in Italy: here are their stories

An electrician, a tinsmith, a landscaper and a construction foreman: they are the latest dead in the unending tragedy of workplace deaths in Italy. Already 14 workers have died since the beginning of 2020 (as of this writing), while 1,437 died last year, including those who lost their lives in transit. However, it is unacceptable to reduce them to numbers. We need to tell the stories of the victims, starting from their work, as a way to try to do them justice when faced with unacceptable events, which are never the result of mere misfortune, but the singular and tragic result of how work is organized in our country.

Daniele Peroncelli was a 32-year-old electrician who died crushed by a forklift truck on the premises of TRAE, a transport company in Busca, in the Cuneo area, where he worked as an outside contractor. He received prompt first aid, but it was of no use. He was a self-employed worker who was passionate about soccer and fishing. He was well known in his community, active in the local Pro Loco organization, and even ran in the Busca administrative elections in 2014. One of the early supporters of the Five Star Movement, he was also active on their behalf in the campaign for the latest round of elections in 2019. Beside the carabinieri and the fire services, Mayor Marco Gallo also paid a visit to the place where Peroncelli lost his life.

Francesco Gebbia was a 57-year-old tinsmith (sheet metal worker). This very important profession involves the manufacture, installation and repair of metal sheets, an essential task, for instance, for heating and air conditioning systems or car bodywork. Gebbia died Tuesday in Via Setificio in Casale Monferrato, in the Porta Milano district, probably due to a sudden bout of illness. A witness to the scene was a 43-year-old neighbor who, after opening a window, saw Gebbia lying down on the scaffolding. The difference between a life saved and a life lost can often be just a few seconds. The paramedics arrived right away, and worked for over half an hour to resuscitate him—unfortunately, to no avail. At the age of 57, he joined the ranks of the many workers who have died on scaffolding at their workplace in Italy.

Sometimes we are unfortunately unable to give the names of some of the workers who have died because, as of the time of writing, their identities have not been publicized by the media. This is the case with the third victim, from Cavaion Veronese, in Verona, a man who died due to electrocution while pruning trees. During his work, he accidentally touched an electric cable that gave him a fatal shock. This tragedy was given no more than a few sentences in the media—something that gives us little hope, even of being able to give a name and a face to the anonymous deceased.

Raffaele Ielpo, a 42-year-old construction worker, died Monday in Piazza Tirana in Milan. He was buried by debris while working 50 feet underground on the construction site of Line 4 of the subway system, which will connect Linate to San Cristoforo. Ielpo was from Lauria, in the province of Potenza, and worked for Metro Blu, a consortium of builders led by Salini Impregilo. He was a highly experienced foreman, according to Fabio Terragni, the president of the M4 company. 

Mayor Beppe Sala, who met with Ielpo’s brothers and sister, shed light on some aspects of life on the construction sites in Milan: “This is one of the jobs for those who work underground, which seems to have been assigned almost entirely to families from Basilicata, Calabria,” that is, to the “proud families of the south.” As always, the “smart city” that is Milan nowadays is literally built on their work, as well as that of those who come from other continents. The expressions of sorrow at this death reached the national level, coming both from the city council of Milan and from the regional council of Basilicata. Over 1,000 kilometers apart, two regions were brought together for a moment by the death of a man.

There was also a train collision Tuesday in Naples—one train full of passengers and the other empty—between the stations of Chiaiano and Piscinola, on Line 1 of the Naples subway. A third train was also involved, which could have led to a terrible tragedy. Five injured were admitted to the Cardarelli hospital, including two train drivers, one suffering from chest trauma and the other from cervical trauma. Another 12 passengers were treated on site. It could have been an awful tragedy, with unimaginable consequences and devastating sorrow. Luckily, that didn’t happen this time. 

Looking at work in Italy through the lens of the resulting deaths tends to teach us to expect the worst. When that doesn’t happen, it’s a great relief. From the first reconstructions, it has emerged that the trains in service on that stretch of the track in the morning had reported braking problems. The investigation is focusing on why the security system failed to stop the trains. The line is equipped with state-of-the-art technology that should intervene in cases of human error. It seems that the working conditions and the stress to which the employees are subjected must have played a decisive part. 

The USB union has denounced the ongoing hate campaign against transport workers, a result of the intentional public discrediting of this professional category: according to the union, even when one narrowly escapes a tragedy, one is still hit by “hate speech” on social media. It’s yet another story from the lives of those who survived another day on the job.

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