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Austerity is deadly

The crisis is literally killing people in Italy with rising workplace deaths linked to increasing workloads  and employers seeking savings by cutting back on safety.

While thousands of Italians were on vacation this summer, people were dying at work. on construction sites, in factories and fields.  This is a tragic but routine part of Italian life but this August was the most deadly for three years. There were 51 victims compared to 48 in 2011 and 45 in 2010. And the mortality rate in the first eight months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011 rose a sharp 3.2%.

This brings to 359 the annual death toll in the workplace in Italy with the highest number of workplace deaths no longer the industrial heartland of Lombardy, but the region to its south, Emilia Romagna, with 49 fatalities. The main cause was the earthquake that devastated the provinces of Modena, Ferrara and Reggio Emilia: but four months later, in August, there were nine fatalities, five of them in agriculture.

‘It’s a low estimate because to  these figures must be added the illegal workers who not covered by the statistics,’ says Sebastian Calleri, responsible for health and safety of the CGIL trade union, adding: ‘Every year there are almost 900 victims, but also a million injuries and thousands of cases of occupational disease.’

An army of men and women who are sick or injured, and in severe cases do not return home because every day they risk their own skin. The causes? Working in the black market, of course, but also the economic crisis which is prompting companies to increase workloads while at the same time seeking savings by cutting back on safety, ‘forgetting’ to buy helmets, shoes, clothing for their workers. It is in small factories that are the backbone of the national production in Italy (86%) that the most dramatic cases occur.

The main cause of death is still from falling from a height (24% of deaths), followed by the reversal of a moving vehicle such as a forklift truck (20.6%), while third is crushing due to a fall of a heavy object from above (16.7%). Dozens of investigations over the years show that in many cases lives could have been saved by using the required safety systems, taking preventative measures on construction sites, in short, spreading a culture of safety.

Agriculture is the most deadly sector to be in, where in addition to the low wages you risk life and limb: the collection of fruit and vegetables traditionally sees the highest number of workplace deaths – 36.9% of the total. This is also the type of work which has the highest number of seasonal workers: labour that is poorly trained and for whom companies do not invest in safety

Building sites, where undeclared work and illegal hiring are the rule, account for a quarter of workplace deaths.

Migrants also pay a heavy price – they make up 12.1% of the total.


About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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