Spotlight on workplace safety in Italy amid spate of fatal accidents

Two technicians are believed to have died of suffocation in the basement of a university hospital near Milan amid a spate of fatal workplace accidents in Italy.

The men, aged 46 and 42, had been loading a tank of liquid nitrogen used to preserve medical samples when the accident happened on Tuesday morning. Early investigations show they may have suffocated before becoming frozen by the leaked liquid nitrogen, which is stored at temperatures below -196C

The men, one of whom had only recently started the job and was undergoing training, worked for a company that transports liquid nitrogen. Prosecutors in Milan have launched an investigation into possible manslaughter.

Six other people died in workplace accidents across Italy, including two workers falling to their deaths from scaffolding, on what the Italian media described as “black Tuesday”, while on Wednesday morning a man was killed by a heavy vehicle as he carried out roadworks on a motorway near Bari.

There were 677 workplace deaths between January and July, according to reports in the Italian press, prompting calls from unions for the swift implementation of tougher safety measures and for the immediate closure of companies that fail to comply.

The issue entered the political debate in May, when a 22-year-old woman died after becoming entangled in a rolling machine at a textiles factory near Prato, Tuscany. The accident took place days after Italy marked International Workers’ Day.

In February, a man was killed after being crushed in a press at a textiles factory, also in Tuscany.

During a speech in August, the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, said: “Among all the problems there is one thing that is dear to us all, to me in particular, and that is to try and do something to improve the unacceptable situation in terms of safety at work.”

Draghi said on Monday he had reached an agreement with trade unions to tighten safety regulations as well as hire thousands of new health and safety inspectors.

Luigi Sbarra, the secretary of the Cisl workers union, said the implementation of measures needed to be accelerated. “Condolences and condemnation are not enough,” he added.

Recent workplace accident victims included a 39-year-old man who died after falling through a garage attic during restoration work on a property in Lecce, Puglia, a 48-year-old man who was crushed to death by a machine at a factory in Florence, and another man, aged 54, who was crushed by slabs at a marble laboratory.

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