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The construction sites have increased a lot, the labor inspectors less

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On April 1st, the first 300 new officials hired by the National Labor Inspectorate will take up their duties to increase the staff that had long been undersized. Another 900 inspectors and 131 administrative officials will arrive by May. The competition for the recruitment of 1,174 other inspectors will end by 30 June. Within a few months, the National Inspectorate will be able to count on 2,580 people more than the current 4,023. Although the increase is very significant, to be precise 64 percent, it risks not being sufficient. As you can easily see walking through the Italian cities, with the introduction of building bonuses thousands of new construction sites have been opened: there are so many that even with the hiring of new inspectors it will be difficult to guarantee an adequate number of checks.

Historically in Italy public opinion pays little attention to the issue of prevention and controls at work. It is mostly discussed following the death of male or female workers, especially after cases involving young people: it is not uncommon on these occasions to read newspaper headlines that speak of “emergency”, even if in reality this is not exactly the case. In general, then, the lack of controls and the inadequate number of inspectors are associated with occupational safety, which is only one of the tasks entrusted to the National Inspectorate. One of the most important and underestimated functions of inspectors, in fact, is the supervision of the regularity of employment contracts, the payment of contributions and compulsory insurance, to which most of the controls are dedicated.

The latest hires were funded by the government following the new organization that changed the skills of labor inspectors since last October. The tax decree approved by the government amended the consolidated text on safety of 2008 directly involving the Inspectorate in supervision together with the local health authorities, which up to now carried out most of the checks in the workplace. In essence, the decree has extended the occupational safety skills of inspectors, who in addition to dealing with construction and railways will also have to ensure supervision in companies, shops, professional offices and artisan workshops.

The decree has not changed the work of the inspectors, but has greatly expanded their scope of intervention and therefore the number of potential controls, which has already grown due to the introduction of building bonuses.

The data help to understand the disproportion: according to the last report disseminated by ENEA, the National Agency for New Technologies, the introduction of the 110% superbonus, the tax relief for renovations that improve the energy efficiency of houses and condominiums, has encouraged the opening of 122,548 new construction sites. To these must be added the construction sites relating to another generous concession, the facade bonus, for which data are not available. Considering only the superbonus, there are over 30 possible checks for each available inspector.

The increase in checks recorded by the National Inspectorate in 2021, with a steadily declining workforce compared to previous years, was not enough to proportionally offset the net growth in the number of construction sites: 21,588 checks were carried out in construction against 15,923 2020, a year conditioned by the pandemic. Inspections on construction sites represent 35 percent of the 65,686 supervisory interventions in all sectors, also in this case increased compared to the 57,979 reported in 2020 and referring mainly to the regularity of contracts rather than to safety in the workplace.

– Read also: How the rules on superbonus credits have changed

In some provinces the situation is particularly difficult. In Bergamo, for example, there are only 22 inspectors and one manager in a very productive territory, with over 80 thousand companies: each inspector should check two thousand workplaces. Under these conditions, it is inevitable that the probability of an inspection is extremely low, with non-negligible consequences on the regularity of contracts and on safety.

How argue different observers, the low incidence of controls leads to an increased risk of accidents. THE data Inail, the National Institute for Accident Insurance at Work, show a rather clear trend: in recent years, accidents and deaths at work have steadily decreased and the decrease has also been confirmed in 2021 except for the construction sector, where there is it was an increase.

According to report published in December by Inail with the report of the annual data, in 2021 29,223 accidents were reported on construction sites, an increase compared not only to 2020 – they were 24,949, also due to the interruption due to the lockdown -, but also compared to 2019 and 2018, when they had never exceeded the threshold of 29 thousand. In addition to injuries, the number of people who died following accidents on construction sites also increased: from 114 in 2020 to 127 reported in 2021. In 2019 they were 92 and in 2018 127.

The responsibility for this worrying trend, explains Bruno Giordano, the director of the National Inspectorate, is attributable to the frenzy of a sector that has seen in the superbonus an opportunity not to be missed. “The economic recovery has increased accidents at work because many have improvised entrepreneurs to collect the tax benefits guaranteed by the bonuses,” says Giordano. “Inspection activity has increased by 30 per cent in the construction sector and by 411 per cent to combat illegal hiring, all without new inspectors that we are hiring now and who will give us a hand in the coming months.”

In recent weeks, in order to try to organize more timely and widespread checks, the Labor Inspectorate has collaborated with the Revenue Agency called upon to provide specific information and data on construction sites relating to the 100% super bonus. However, the gap between the number of checks and construction sites that are opened every day will continue to be very large.

Among the reasons that explain why the number of accidents continues to remain high there is also the prevailing composition of Italian companies, often small or very small, with very few employees. In Italy, small and medium-sized enterprises represent 92 per cent of the total. Firms in the construction sector in particular, which the data show to be one of the most at risk, often consist of an employer and one or two employees. In such small businesses it is more difficult to guarantee investments in safety and professional updating.

– Read also: Minister Giorgetti says that the superbonus has drugged construction

The need for inspections is also demonstrated by the percentage of irregularities found. Last December Bruno Giordano released some partial data on 2021: irregularities were found in 90 percent of checks, relating to various areas such as workplace safety, insurance, social security and social protection.

In previous years it had not gone better: in 2020, 8,068 irregularities emerged out of 10,179 specific safety checks carried out in all sectors, 79.3 percent of cases. The final data relating to 2021 will be disseminated in the coming months in the usual annual report on supervisory activities. Most of the irregularities found in the construction sites concern the lack of protection against falls from a height, the absence of barriers, parapets and armor of the excavations, the incorrect use of equipment, the presence of bulky and dangerous elements.

On Friday the labor inspectors are on strike, the first proclaimed nationwide. In Rome, a demonstration is scheduled in Piazza della Repubblica. The inspectors, who for years have been denouncing that they are considered a marginal category by government policies, protest because they have been excluded from the so-called harmonization of the administration allowance provided for by government decree and intended for all workers in ministries. In fact, the exclusion does not allow inspectors to receive an increase ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 gross for other workers in ministries, despite having the same contract. In addition to the workers of the National Labor Inspectorate, the mobilization will also concern the employees of the National Agency for Active Labor Policies, Anpal, who are also excluded from the harmonization of allowances.