Being safe in the workplace: italian regulations and how to keep up to date
Protecting and safeguarding staff, as well as customers, is a priority that cannot be waived for anyone running a business in Italy, startups included. Risks vary from industry to industry, which is why it is very important that you know the precise legal requirements for workplace safety.
Prominent among the various steps you need to pay attention to in this area is risk assessment, because it is on the basis of it that you can then take the most appropriate precautions for each identified problem.
Before you understand what risk assessment is and how you can complete this particular task, however, you need to know exactly what is meant by workplace safety.
What is meant by workplace safety?
Safety at work refers to the set of internal and external actions that a company puts in place for the purpose of ensuring the safety of its workers. Among these actions, a decisive role is played by prevention activities, aimed at decreasing the possibility of taking risks at work.
Understanding what workplace safety is is not enough, however, because you also need to know why it is so important. Ensuring the highest level of safety for employees’ health conditions, first and foremost, guarantees a positive return because it increases not only workers’ morale but also their profitability.
Increased employee productivity is, however, only one of the positive aspects you can benefit from if you decide to invest in workplace safety prevention: in fact, you must also consider the tangible economic savings you can achieve by setting up a work environment with high safety standards, which translates in practical terms into lower costs to be incurred for occupational injuries and illnesses.
Obviously, fulfilling all the safety requirements of the law also shields you from the penalties that affect those companies that do not demonstrate sufficient care for the sensitive issue of maintaining safety in the company. For this to be possible, however, it is necessary for you to know in detail the current Italian legislation on occupational safety, a subject that is constantly evolving.
The current legislation (Testo Unico sulla Sicurezza sul Lavoro)
To date, the current legislation that regulates how Italian companies must provide for the highest standard of safety in the workplace is Legislative Decree 81/2008, which not coincidentally is also known as “Testo Unico sulla Sicurezza sul Lavoro” (Consolidated Occupational Safety Act) or “Testo Unico sulla Salute e Sicurezza sul lavoro” (Occupational Health and Safety Act).
This particular legislative decree was enacted on April 30, 2008, with the aim of supplementing and improving previous occupational safety provisions (such as the famous Law 626). The great merit of this legislative decree was precisely that it provided for a simplification and rationalization of the various aspects that help define this sensitive subject.
Thanks to Legislative Decree 81/2008, for example, the importance of identifying risk factors and sources has been set down in black and white, as has the need to develop a company strategy that is accepted and shared by everyone within the company itself, and the need to continuously monitor the preventive measures that can be implemented to reduce risks.
Scope and application
Article 3 of “Testo Unico sulla Sicurezza sul Lavoro” is dedicated to clarifying the scope of application of Legislative Decree 81/2008 itself, which “applies to all sectors of activity, private and public, and to all types of risk” and “to all workers and employees, whether employed or self-employed, as well as persons treated as such.” In the text, however, it is also specified that the rules contained therein are applied taking into account the “actual special needs related to the service performed or organizational peculiarities,” that is, considering the peculiar situations in which certain activities are carried out (such as, for example, that of the police) and in which certain categories of subjects find themselves.
Net of the particular considerations, it should be clear to you that, according to current legislation and as we will go into more detail in a moment, any company that has at least one employee on its staff has an obligation to provide a corporate security policy. The number of employees, in fact, is not a discriminating factor.
Legislative Decree 81/2008 also sheds light on the various figures who play a key role in the process related to corporate safety.
In this regard, it should be pointed out right away that the legal figure that is deemed to be the guarantor and responsible for occupational health and safety within the company is the employer, which in the Consolidated Text is defined as “the person who holds the employment relationship with the worker” or, more generally, “the person who (…) has responsibility for the organization itself or the production unit as he or she exercises decision-making and spending powers”.
The employer, therefore, must ensure that preventive and all other measures aimed at reducing or eliminating risks to workers are properly implemented. More specifically and in more practical terms, the employer must ensure a safe working environment, must train and inform workers about the risks they might encounter in the workplace, and must supervise employees’ compliance with accident prevention regulations.
Then, among the employer’s duties is the preparation of the Risk Assessment Document – Documento Valutazione dei Rischi (DVR). We will elaborate on this document later; first, in fact, it is necessary to complete the overview of the figures.
Other key occupational safety figures then include:
- the director, i.e., that person whose task is to implement the employer’s directives by organizing work activities and supervising them;
- the person in charge, who supervises the work activities and ensures the implementation of the directives received, monitoring their proper execution by the workers and exercising a functional power of initiative;
- the worker, a person who, regardless of the type of contract, performs a work activity within the organization of a public or private employer, with or without remuneration, even for the sole purpose of learning a trade, art or profession, excluding domestic and family service workers.
The employer may occasionally hold the position of Prevention and Protection Service Manager – Responsabile Servizio Prevenzione e Protezione (RSPP), i.e., the person responsible for safety in the workplace (understood as the one who is in charge of controlling safety in the workplace). This role can be filled, as mentioned, by the employer or an employee, but it is necessary to take a specific training course. In this regard, however, you should know that if you want to relieve yourself of this particular activity and responsibility, you can also entrust this role to a person outside the company (in this case we talk about external RSPP).
Having said who can hold the position of Prevention and Protection Service Manager, it is now necessary to elaborate on his duties: among them, the most prominent are performing the inspection of workplaces and verifying the conditions of possible danger, cooperating with the employer in risk assessment, informing staff about safety at work and planning interventions to improve this aspect.
Another key figure is the Workers’ Safety Representative – Rappresentante Lavoratori Sicurezza (RLS), that is, a worker with ad hoc training on the subject and elected by his or her colleagues as their representative in occupational safety (and prevention). Keep in mind that in companies with a particularly large number of employees, there may be more than one RLS.
Among its various activities, the Safety Workers Representative gives advice on the prevention workers to be chosen, promotes prevention measures, and is concerned with appealing to the competent authorities in the event that the safety criteria that had been established are not met in the company.
The Competent Physician – Medico Competente (MC), on the other hand, is the professional figure in charge of Health Surveillance of workers and compliance with the Health Protocol designed in relation to risks and tasks. It is up to the Competent Physician, therefore, to determine the health condition of a worker and his or her fitness to perform his or her job. By no means should you underestimate the importance of this figure: in recent years, in fact, there has been an increasing focus on the mental and physical well-being of workers.
Then there is the firefighting officer, a figure, appointed by the employer, who is responsible for adopting all fire prevention strategies, ensuring the evacuation of workplaces in the event of an emergency, and is responsible for rescuing other workers, collaborating with first responders in handling emergencies.
Finally, in the company’s prevention and protection system, we find the first aid officer who is in charge of emergency management. Also appointed by the employer, he or she must be familiar with all the specific risks and pathologies associated with the type of work performed in the company and must know how and to whom to make timely communications and apply the protocols provided for first aid, knowing how to identify an initial picture of the injured person’s condition.
The Occupational Safety Consolidation Act distinguishes between “information” and “training“, providing the precise definitions of these two terms. “Information” is to be understood as the “set of activities aimed at providing knowledge useful for the identification, reduction and management of risks in the workplace,” while the term “training” refers to the “educational process through which to transfer to workers (…) knowledge and procedures useful for the acquisition of skills for the safe performance of their respective tasks in the company and the identification, reduction and management of risks.
The two definitions just mentioned, however, are not enough to clarify the distinction between information and training. In this regard, you should keep well in mind that training, as it is understood within Legislative Decree 81/2008, does not consist only in the mere transfer of information about the risks related to the activity and the measures and procedures to be adopted, but rather results in a broader path aimed at creating a kind of recognized professionalism in the field of risk awareness. Specifically, this path is developed in four steps: basic training for all workers, special training for system figures, training on specific risks related to particular tasks, and training on the use of equipment and machinery.
The prevention system
To shed light on what the prevention system of the Consolidated Occupational Safety Act provides for, it is possible to refer to the definition of prevention contained therein: it is the “set of provisions or measures that are also necessary according to the particular nature of the work, experience and technique, in order to avoid or diminish occupational hazards while respecting the health of the population and the integrity of the external environment”.
In addition to the aforementioned worker information and training, prevention measures also include the proper design and execution of maintenance work on plant and machinery.
You should know that Legislative Decree 81/2008 implemented European directives according to which the employer is required to ensure the principle of maximum technologically possible safety, in relation to technical progress and available scientific knowledge. In the Consolidated Text, in fact, it states that the employer must provide for the “elimination of risks and, where this is not possible, their reduction to a minimum in relation to the knowledge acquired on the basis of technical progress”.
The Risk Assessment Document – il Documento di Valutazione dei Rischi (DVR)
Pay close attention now because it’s time to talk about the Risk Assessment Document – Documento di Valutazione dei Rischi (DVR), that is, the document that puts in black and white the possible risks present in the workplace and is intended to assess the likelihood of a harmful event to workers occurring, calculate the extent of the possible damage, and recommend concrete prevention and protection measures.
As mentioned above, it is the responsibility of the employer to prepare the DVR. It is not possible to delegate this task to another figure, but you can receive the help of a consultant. In addition, in some cases provided for by law, RSPP, RLS and competent physician can also intervene in the drafting of this document.
The Risk Assessment Document is mandatory for all companies with at least one employee or collaborator (working partners, trainees, workers on temporary contracts). The only entities exempt from this particular obligation are self-employed workers and family businesses.
In the case of a new business, the DVR must be prepared within 90 days, while it must be prepared immediately in the case of a worker joining an already established business.
The original copy of the Risk Assessment Document, which must be signed by all persons involved, must be kept in the company and made available in case of inspection visits by ASL, INPS, INAIL or Fire Department.
Absence of the DVR or incomplete processing of the document may result in employer sanctions, such as fines, suspension of activity and modification of company subordinate contracts.
It is very important, therefore, that you know how to draft this important document. Before drafting it, you must gather some data about the company, such as the number of workers, and other information such as the tasks performed and the various stages of the work process. Remember, too, that the company’s biographical data, the organizational chart of the prevention and protection service, a description of the work cycle and the planned tasks, the risk assessment report, the program of prevention and protection measures, and the program of interventions to increase safety levels in the work environment cannot be missing from the document.
There is another aspect that you should not overlook: although there is no deadline for the DVR, this document should be reviewed whenever there are significant changes in the company’s work organization or production process. Also keep in mind that for some specific risks (such as those related to noise or worker stress), periodic monitoring is necessary.
Certifications and SGSSL
It must be clear to you by now that taking the correct steps to safeguard workplace safety is a legal obligation for every company with at least one employee.
You need to know that there are tools for the proper implementation of such arrangements: the Occupational Health and Safety Management System – Sistema di Gestione per la Salute e Sicurezza sul Lavoro, also often known by its acronym SGSSL, is a corporate organizational system that optimizes processes for the purpose of ensuring the achievement of health and safety safety standards within the company.
It is a voluntary tool (which becomes mandatory only in the case of major accident hazard facilities), which companies use to more effectively manage the sensitive subject of occupational safety.
Certification of the SGSSL is proof of compliance with the requirements of ISO 45001:2018, and obtaining it is a distinctive and competitive element for the company.
We have come to the end of our overview of safety in the workplace, a subject that (never forget) is extremely important and sensitive. After all, back in 1948, Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated:
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.
In addition to being important and sensitive, as already reiterated, occupational safety is a subject in constant flux: for this reason, the final advice for you can only be to keep yourself constantly updated on all the news in this area by referring to the website of INAIL (the National Institute for Industrial Accident Insurance).