New act aims to improve workers’ health and safety

On 6 March 2008, the outgoing centre-left government approved a decree which modifies the regulations regarding health and safety at the workplace. The decree facilitates administrative procedures for companies and reinforces the role of worker representatives in health and safety matters at the workplace. In addition, the act foresees the extension of these rules to self-employed and flexible workers and increases sanctions against companies failing to respect the new code.

Background

According to official data, in 2007 some 832,037 workers were injured and more than 1,000 workers died in occupational accidents at work in Italy. These figures would be much higher if the number of occupational accidents in the informal economy – also referred to as the ‘hidden’ or ‘grey’ economy – were also considered: in such instances, accidents at work are not reported as employers want to avoid any sanctions and workers fear losing their jobs. The critical nature of these statistics, as well as the repeated appeals of the country’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, and the increasingly insistent demands of the social partners – especially after the serious workplace accident at the Thyssen-Krupp metalworking plant in Turin in December 2007 (IT0801039I) – finally pushed the outgoing centre-left government to approve the Consolidated Act on health and safety at the workplace (Testo unico salute e sicurezza sul lavoro) on 6 March 2008.

The former government adopted the consolidated act after two years of negotiations with the social partners. The new code reorganises and standardises all of the measures concerning health and safety at the workplace, as well as aligning them to the European norms.

The act will come into force in the next few months, following approval by the Commissions of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic, along with the State-Regions Conference and the Council of State.

Provisions of consolidated act

The consolidated act introduces the following new measures:

  • procedures relative to health and safety measures will be easier and less bureaucratic, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
  • the act’s scope of application has been broadened to encompass all categories of workers active in the economy, including – and in addition to workers with a subordinate status – self-employed workers and those hired on the basis of flexible forms of employment;
  • to improve and guarantee the protection of workers’ health and safety at the workplace, the role of workers’ representatives and joint bodies have been strengthened in this regard; moreover, support will be given to companies which adopt best practice codes at the workplace;
  • sanctions have been increased for employers who fail to adequately assess workers’ health and safety risks at workplaces involving high levels of danger and exposure to risks. The new act foresees sanctions ranging from fines of a minimum of €8,000 to a prison sentence of between six and 18 months in more serious cases. The act stipulates lighter sanctions in terms of punitive or financial penalties for companies which immediately comply with the new health and safety rules. For employers who are found responsible for having caused work-related injuries or even a fatal injury, administrative sanctions of up to €1.5 million will be applied, along with the suspension of business activities – this measure must still be added to the existing legislation which covers manslaughter and bodily harm;
  • the norms regarding employment contracts, and in particular those of subcontracted work, have been reviewed, since data have shown that a significant number of violations and work-related accidents occur in subcontractors’ working environments. The correct application of health and safety regulations at the workplace will become a compulsory selection criterion for winning public contracts;
  • to facilitate accident prevention, new funds will be made available to better inform workers and employers in SMEs, because smaller companies rarely have trade union representation, despite the high number of accidents in these workplaces. Moreover, the subject of health and safety at the workplace will be included in the educational programmes of schools and universities;
  • monitoring and protection activities will be coordinated to make the best use of resources and eliminate overlapping, thus improving the efficacy of interventions. Furthermore, a public information system will be set up, involving the social partners, which will organise and enhance the circulation of information about occupational injuries and labour inspections. This, in turn, will facilitate the interventions of the state, and local and regional bodies;
  • a health and personal risk booklet will be distributed to all workers.

Reactions of social partners

According to the former Minister of Labour, Cesare Damiano, the new act is the result of ‘considerable work’ and ‘is one of the most comprehensive forms of legislation at European level’.

The trade unions have welcomed the measures contained in the new act. The Confederal Secretary of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), Paola Agnello Modica, also expressed her satisfaction about the fact that ‘the ministers of health and labour have continuously cooperated with the social partners’.

However, on the employer side, the Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria) has criticised the new act. In fact, its President, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, has declared that the consolidated act focuses excessively on sanctions rather than prevention measures.

Commentary

The new Consolidated Act on health and safety at the workplace is particularly important, as it also stipulates measures aiming to prevent work-related accidents. It considers such measures as a fundamental aspect of public policies, by obliging companies to identify high-risk situations and consequently inform the workers concerned about these risks, regardless of the type of employment relationship.

Vilma Rinolfi, Domenico Paparella and Sofia Sanz, Cesos

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