New bill on health and safety at work in pipeline

In April 2007, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security presented a bill for a new regulatory text on health and safety at work. The main aims are to coordinate the various public bodies involved, consult with the social partners, simplify the administrative burden and promote a risk prevention approach, including the teaching of basic health and safety principles at school.

Context

The issue of occupational health and safety has received increasing attention on the public agenda due to the persistently high numbers of reported accidents at work, reaching between 900,000 and 1,000,000 accidents a year, albeit with a slight decline between 2002 and 2006. These data are preliminary estimates (in Italian, 155Kb PDF) from the Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority (Istituto Nazionale per l’assicurazione contro gli infortuni sul lavoro, Inail). Moreover, about four fatal accidents occur each day, with the construction sector reporting the highest proportion of deaths in the workplace.

A significant number of migrant and undeclared workers work in the construction sector: according to the Labour Force Survey, 4th quarter, 2006 (in Italian, 28Kb Winzip file), migrant workers represent 10% of the labour force in this sector while, according to trade unions (in Italian), about one worker in three is undeclared or partially undeclared. However, data on the latter group are unreliable due to their unofficial status.

According to the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Cesare Damiano, a campaign of inspections (in Italian) in the construction sector, carried out from August to November 2006, found that 55% of companies working on the inspected sites maintained some irregular practices. As a result of the campaign, over 36,000 workers who had been working without an employment contract received a standard contract. The President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, has repeatedly highlighted these statistics to raise government and public awareness of the issue.

In 2005, the dissatisfaction expressed by trade unions and public institutions forced the former centre-right government to withdraw its 2004 bill (in Italian, 496Kb PDF) on the subject of health and safety in the workplace. The proposal was believed to contravene national and EU statutory principles on occupational health and safety, and went too far in simplifying the regulations which employers had to fulfil.

Provisions of new bill

In February 2007, during the Second Health and Safety at Work Conference, the government presented guidelines (in Italian, 160Kb PDF) for reorganising the existing legislation on health and safety at work in a single text (testo unico), filling existing gaps and setting out the aims, governance structure and main areas of intervention.

The existing standards will be modified and harmonised to ensure that they fully respect EU regulations covering both employees to self-employed workers, and also including temporary agency workers and ‘parasubordinate’ workers (326Kb PDF), that is, workers who are officially self-employed but are in fact economically dependent on one employer (IT0501NU01). Particular attention will be paid to young, migrant and agency workers and to more precarious sectors, such as construction.

Coordination and synergies will be established among the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (Ministero del Lavoro e delle Previdenza Sociale) and the Ministry of Health (Ministero della Salute), in concertation with the social partners and the regions. The latter, indeed, are responsible for the management of health services – including occupational health – since the 1979 reform and, according to the 2001 reform, are entitled to regulate on health and safety in the workplace and on quality at work issues.

The legal requirements of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be simplified and will no longer be presented as an obligation but rather as a managerial objective in order to introduce measures aiming to promote health and safety at work.

The design of sanctions will be revised and the activities of inspection bodies from both ministries will be better coordinated to avoid overlapping and duplication. Measures will be integrated with inspections by bilateral bodies at provincial level, having as a reference model the local-level joint committees for safety (Commissione paritetica territoriale) in the construction sector.

Training will be developed as a prevention tool and will also be introduced in the educational system in order to increase social awareness on health and safety issues at all levels. Finally, public tenders will demand details on the implementation of health and safety standards. This provision will be a binding requirement in assessing the company’s offer and its right to benefit from public funding.

New bill goes before senate

On 14 April 2007, the government submitted a bill (in Italian, 26Kb PDF), stating the government’s intention to promulgate the new single text within 12 months of the parliament’s approval. The proposal better shapes the responsibilities of involved actors, the planned sanctions, as well as a coordinated strategy within public institutions at national and local level, and among the social partners. Furthermore, the bill promotes the mainstreaming of good practices, guidelines, company-level agreements and interventions according to the principles of corporate social responsibility. It recalls the principle of the ‘best available safety technology’ set out in the Civil Code, which was derogated by the 2004 bill.

The bill was put before the upper house of parliament, the Senate, which raised further issues such as the following:

  • accountability of occupational health and safety costs and of the measures taken by companies in public tenders, prohibiting cost-cutting in this area in the tenders presented;
  • nationwide action of health and safety worker representatives on a specially designated day, in the workplace and at regional level for sectors dominated by micro-enterprises, such as construction, crafts or agriculture, where stated in national collective agreements;
  • further measures against undeclared work.

Commentary

The new health and safety bill and its preparatory guidelines represent a turning point in the current debate on health and safety regulation, since they propose a comprehensive reform of the existing legislation and aim to design an appropriate framework in order to achieve adequate implementation of the law. However, it will take some time to approve the new legislation as the Italian legislative process requires the approval of the same law by both houses of the Italian parliament, according to the principle of ‘perfect bicameralism’.

Mario Giaccone, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso

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