Safety culture at work begins at school. Therefore, only starting from school we can provide students – the workers of tomorrow – with the necessary tools to face up to the risks associated with work activities.
The attention that this theme has received is encouraging, and first of all, I wish to highlight how and why education can and must improve safety and health conditions at work. Despite Safety at work being subjected to severe legislations, controls and sanctions, accidents at work are not decreasing in a substantial way. This means that something is not quite right.
It is therefore important to dedicate a specific reflection to the cultural framework that must support these actions. Culture, safety and work must develop together. They are three of the pillars of our society and of our civilization on which everyone’s life should be based.
This is true, especially in our country, being the cradle of western culture and law. We have a state-of-the-art legislation on safety, and the first article of our Constitution refers to work.
Nevertheless, every year we record significant injuries and deaths caused by accidents at work.
In 2016 alone:
- 1,104 deaths
- 16,557 professional diseases
- 641,345 accidents at work
In the European Union, the total cost of accidents at work is estimated 476 billion euros per year, 3.3% of Europe’s GDP, but accounting for professional diseases, the total impact is difficult to estimate. These pathologies manifest after many years after the worker has been exposed to polluting, carcinogenic and harmful substances. Some harmful substances and their effects are not even known yet (therefore, the research in the sector is import); while others are notorious and have entered the news and the history of this country. On this subject, our thoughts turn to the epic disaster represented by the use of asbestos which caused thousands of victims all over Italy. However, besides asbestos there is radon, dioxin, chemical fertilizers, paints, etc…
Accidents at work and professional diseases are scourges. It seems as if Italy is at war.
We are talking about a huge human and social cost, but these tragedies attract only partial attention from the mass media and are received dispassionately by a now inured public opinion. Our country seems resigned to live with the issue of death at work, and Italy is getting used to accounting for the fallen, the wounded, and the invalid, as an inescapable fact.
I think this is not the case. I can’t accept it, as father of two children who will become workers. Neither Indire can accept it, being a research institute, it is committed to looking for solutions to problems. Italians shouldn’t accept it either because the problem concerns the entire society and everyone could become part of this statistic.
I would say this once again, we can’t surrender to these numbers. The battle against accidents at work is ongoing. Italy can still win – because of its economic and social physiognomy – and can’t escape from this challenge. Our country is a leading industrial, manufacturing, agricultural country, and is the natural logistic connection of three continents. It has a glorious tradition of industrial mechanics, shipbuilding industry, big infrastructures, petrochemical industry and textile production. It has a valuable technical and technological heritage. All over the world, our products are considered of superior quality, better and more reliable, just for being “Made in Italy”. Italy has the production of quality services and products in its DNA.
This aptitude can be maintained and developed only with a skilled and aware workforce, enabled to give its best. Everyday men and women enter into construction sites and offices, to contribute to the country’s growth, and they must do this equipped with the necessary culture and knowledge to carry out their duties in complete safety.
Regulations, laws, controls and sanctions are fundamental but they aren’t enough. Controls and sanctions are often applied after the accident occurred. We must shift our attention from “after”, when the damage has been done, to “before”, when the accident can still be avoided.
We can do this by investing in safety culture, providing citizens/workers with the necessary knowledge and the right attitude to prevent risks. One euro invested in prevention provides exponential saving, compared to the costs sustained by the state for curing and rehabilitating the worker who had an accident at work; this without considering that a dead, injured or disabled worker is a defeat for the entire country, far beyond the human and economic costs generated.
From this perspective, the school is the place where the first inputs of safety culture can be introduced. School is in fact the place where:
- tomorrow’s workers are formed;
- it is possible to learn without being time constricted by working hours;
- our children must be accompanied in their growing path in order to become responsible citizens.
For this reason, school is the natural ground for sowing the seeds of safety culture and this is one of the main innovations introduced by the legislative decree n. 81 of 2008, the Consolidated Act on health and safety at work, the legal reference of this theme that we cherish the most. It is a very important law which reorganises, rationalises and systematises the regulations in the sector. This regulation introduces a fundamental concept: it is necessary to form students in order to have in the future well prepared workers aware of safety prevention. An extremely important innovation which was welcomed with general approval but remained a “dead letter”, without any practical implementation. A great opportunity missed, because investing in school is a great opportunity and a necessity envisaged by the law of the state, and common sense.
This is even more true nowadays with the “school/work alternation”, a work scheme for school students which finally connects the world of education to enterprises. The transition from the school desk or the school laboratory to an actual work place can’t be underestimated in its complexity and risks. Making sure that the company is in good standing with the law is not enough. This is clearly necessary but it is not enough. The student entering the labour market must be endowed with useful tools. A young person must be ready to face up to the complexity of a workplace which is quite different from the school class. Safety culture is an essential part of civic education which must accompany the growth of every young person.
The project Memory Safe, of which today we are presenting the results, represents a first important step in this direction. More than 43 thousand students and more than 3 thousand teachers from 1,342 schools participated in a call for proposals to implement initiatives and good practises on safety at work, which were shared online, available to all, to give teachers useful tools to start a large scale training initiative, and create a movement to raise awareness on prevention. Initiating Memory Safe was a significant and forward-looking choice, because it is the first initiative which implements the authentic insight on the role of school in prevention of Decree n.81. We must recognise the merit of the Ministry of Labour in fully understanding the innovation contained in the Consolidated Act on health and safety at work.
Memory Safe is only the first experimental project, but I like to imagine it, as a general rehearsal opening up to more large-scale actions, which in my opinion, should involve all secondary school students. We can’t intervene at random. The before-mentioned statistics can’t be tackled with pilot projects. Intervention must be systematic, wide-ranging and extensive. The school world is the only place for massive, effective and comprehensive action. A cultural and educational offensive must be addressed to the new generation, in order to form their mentality and their attitude on the basis of the concept of prevention.
Rules, controls and sanctions are crucial but not enough. The challenge posed by accidents at work can be won only if, among the many actions deployed, we invest on young people’s cultural education. We need young people who are prepared, educated and aware of the risks inherent to every work activity. Only with this educational action it is possible to decrease – and in perspective eradicate – the issue of accidents at work which is nowadays endemic.
I want to emphasise the necessity of an inter-institutional collaboration among all the subjects involved. The theme of prevention in safety at work can be tackled only building a network of the competencies of the Institutions of the state: the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, the National Institute for Insurance Against Accidents at Work (INAIL), The local health administration units (ASL), specialised units of the police, fire-fighters, etc… everyone should take part, especially regarding young people’s education.
The Decree n.81, despite its many merits, doesn’t define in a clear and unambiguous way who is in charge of this education. The Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) plays clearly a pivotal role, being the referent for school education in Italy, but it can’t do this alone. The specific technical competencies for prevention belong to other institutions. It is not possible to make an impact without the coordinated action of the three Ministries: Education, Labour and Health, and other realities involved at various levels with important functions. The “generic nature” of the law can be overcome only with the sense of responsibility and collaboration – among the men and the women of the state who lead and administer the institutions – that I have mentioned before. The challenge can be won only with team work, and a wider view must be taken, reaching beyond individual roles.
Indire is ready to do its part, acting as national institute for educational research and operating entity of the Miur. In this framework, aiming to develop the maximum collaboration among the institutions of the state, Indire is committed to organise in 2018 the “States General of safety Culture”. It will be a fundamental meeting of all the actors involved against accidents at work. Together we will have the opportunity to develop a common strategy, systematise resources and competencies, set out schedules and intervention priorities.
We can make it together. Accidents at work can decrease. We just have to set prevention as a priority and act consequently. On this subject I don’t expect the resistance and reticence we often find when different institutions have to sit around the same table, because the stakes are too high, and there is no room for individualism and single players.
Joining everyone’s efforts we can ensure that a young person engaged today in an educational activity on prevention could avoid accounting for one of those dramatic statistics we talked about before. It is a challenge which doesn’t allow disengagement at any level. To understand the importance of what is at stake, it is enough to look into the eyes of these wonderful young people, who will become workers and take on the leadership of our country in the next years.
With prevention at school we can avoid an accident at work in the future.
As a public servant, I will do whatever I can to reach this goal and have this satisfaction.
Flaminio Galli, General Director of Indire
Speech on the occasion of the convention “Memory Safe: the culture of safety”
Rome, 12 December 2017