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December 28, 2020

Workplace safety in the Italian lift industry – past, present and future

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Workplace safety in the Italian lift industry – past, present and future

This article explores the experience of Italian lift SMEs in the field of safety at work. In Italy, an important decree on safety in the workplace has been in force since 2008, also known as the 'Consolidated Law on Safety in the Workplace and Workers' Health', which represents the completion of the evolution in workplace safety that began in the 1950s.[1] This consolidated law, together with other provisions, changed the approach that had hitherto characterised national legislation, with a view to enhancing the "preventive protection of workers' psycho-physical integrity". The aforementioned legislative provisions had the particular feature of adopting a concept of prevention, based above all on the technological measures to be taken to mitigate the seriousness and probability of accidental events. For example, a ladder and a staircase had to be built in a certain way, the railing and the guardrail had to comply with precise dimensional rules, and so on. A major turning point came with Decree 626, issued in 1994. First of all, the concept of shared safety at European level was introduced. This decree transposes several important European Directives on safety in the workplace, the so-called Social Directives. The Decree also introduces a new mentality in the approach to prevention, introducing the concept of protection through prevention according to which prevention itself is structured in a planned and organised manner. One of the innovations introduced is the employer's obligation to carry out a 'risk assessment'. With the Decree 81/2008, the evolution of the Italian legislation on safety at work is completed. The decree confirms and strengthens the innovations already introduced in 1994, widens scope, updates the rules for the attribution of powers, duties and responsibilities with an accurate description of the division of responsibilities between the employer, the manager, the person in charge and much more. And how is the Italian lift industry linked to this evolution process in workplace safety? Since the enactment of the Decree 626/1994, and especially of the Decree 81/2008, the level of awareness in the Italian lift industry about safety at work issues has greatly increased. It should be noted, however, that for many reasons the Italian lift sector has seen a certain delay in fully incorporating the rules dictated by the new decrees. This is particularly true for SMEs in the sector which are very attentive to the concrete aspects of work, and find it difficult to adapt to certain formalities, which are however of great importance. Intrinsically, the typical activities of a lift company have a high degree of dangerousness, or risk, because the lift staff very often face serious and important dangers. These risks relate to new installation on site and maintenance. A construction site is notoriously a dangerous working environment and the awareness of risk amongst the lift operator and other companies and workers involved may be high, in general. Maintenance, on the other hand, takes place in finished buildings, often private, residential condominiums, or even in time-share office buildings, which are equivalent in this respect to condominiums, even though they are actually workplaces, at least for the personnel. In these cases, the client ordering the maintenance only perceives safety problems for the service providers, including the lift operator, in the event of significant work. The problems connected with the safety is always to be taken into consideration, even if is performed a “simple” maintenance operation. This justifies that a thorough and correct risk assessment is carried out. The risk assessment, which the employer must necessarily carry out for each activity performed by his employees, must aim to introduce risk mitigation actions. Mitigating actions mainly act on probability (less often it is possible to act on severity). An example of how to carry out a risk assessment is given below.

The product directives that regulate the design, installation and commissioning of lifts and other similar equipment support lift operators. In fact, the Lifts Directive indicates in its Annex I the EHSRs (Essential Health and Safety Requirements) that the lift installer must assess and resolve the EHSRs. The harmonised standards are concerned with defining the technical requirements which, in the current state of the art, allow the risk to be reduced to an acceptable value. One example is crushing at the ends of the shaft. Annex I to the Lifts Directive[2] stipulates the following:

  1. Risks for persons outside the car

2.1. The lift must be designed and constructed to ensure that the space in which the car travels is inaccessible except for maintenance or in emergencies. Before a person enters that space, normal use of the lift must be made impossible.

2.2. The lift must be designed and constructed to prevent the risk of crushing when the car is in one of its extreme positions.

The objective will be achieved by means of free space or refuge beyond the extreme positions.

The harmonised standard EN 81-20:2020 and EN 81-50:2020, cited in the EU’s Official Journal  then sets out in concrete terms what measures must be taken to avoid what is indicated in the EHSR of the directive.[3]

The  tables are taken from EN 81-20:2014.   In conclusion, the question arises as to what the future holds for safety and what the provisions on safety in the workplace should aim at. Some argue that in order to achieve more prevention results, repression and negative sanctions should not be promoted. Others argue that on the contrary, prevention should be encouraged through 'positive' forms of incentives. Two examples are 'positive sanctions' and 'economic incentives'. More and more often one hears about 'positive sanctions', which encourage compliance through the provision of rewards, as opposed to 'negative sanctions', which aim to discourage the violation of a rule through the administration of penalties. Economic incentives seem to be very much appreciated, for example the forms of economic support activated by bodies such as INAIL (the Italian National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work) in Italy for the realisation of projects aimed at reducing accidents and occupational diseases and implementing health and safety levels in the workplace.  

[1] Among the many legislative texts, it is important to recall the Presidential Decree no. 547 of 27 April 1955, laying down rules for the prevention of accidents at work; the Presidential Decree no. 164 of 7 January 1956, laying down rules for the prevention of accidents at work in the building industry and on occupational hygiene; and the Presidential Decree no. 303 of 19 March 1956, on occupational hygiene.

[2] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32014L0033&from=EN

[3] The new versions of standards EN 81-20 and 81-50 were cited in the OJEU on 27 January. In terms of technical content, the new version is identical to the 2014 version (EN 81-20:2014 and EN 81-50:2014).  However, Annex ZA has been modified, and now contains indications on the exact correspondence of each EHSRs of the Lifts Directive and those applicable from the Machinery Directive. In addition, the normative references have been updated and dated. A transitional period of 6 months is foreseen, during which the old standard is harmonised.


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