Occupational health and safety in history

La safety at work is a topic that has become increasingly important in recent years. However, the data on accidents and fatalities at work in our country and worldwide are still far from reaching the desired standards. Today, issues such as prevention and worker protection are on the agenda, but obviously this was not always the case.

Only recently, at regulatory levelworkers have won an adequate level of protection, but the road to gaining these rights has been long and complex. There have been many stages in this process, which is still evolving in Italy as well.

The history of safety at work

Already in the 4th century B.C. Hippocrates had undertaken studies on the relationship between illness and work, becoming in fact the forerunner of occupational medicine. A few centuries later, in 1st century A.D. the Roman emperor Tiberius Claudius Drusus decided that sick slaves should be considered free if they were cured. In medieval times instead operated the guilds of arts and crafts, which assisted their members by providing them with care and assistance. Only in the 1700s, Bernardino Ramazzini professor of medicine at the University of Modena and Padua, published the first edition of his treatise 'De Morbis Artificum Diatriba'. Ramazzini thus produced the first work on the occupational diseases personally visited the workshops and investigated some 40 occupations, describing for each of them the health risks for workers and possible remedies.

However, until the early part of the 1800s There had never been any specific legislative focus on health and safety protection at work. Risk prevention was entrusted exclusively to the sensitivity of the owner of the factory or construction site and the attention of individual workers with all the limitations of the case.


The beginning of accident prevention

The first real law is dated 1833 and it was England with the Factory Act to set up the first four factory inspectors who initiated a debate on working conditions that led to new regulations for accident prevention and protection.

In Germany, as early as 1884, the Law on theinsurance against accidents at workIn addition, recognition of medical treatment and pensions for injured persons was introduced and the first accident prevention regulations were enacted. However, it was not until 1973 that thelegal obligation for the employer to hire a company doctor and an occupational safety specialist.

In France, the first law on health and safety at work in industrial plants was enacted in 1893. The situation in the United Stateswhere the first real laws did not come until the 1960s. Later, in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act established the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) with the aim of ensuring health and safety at work through the introduction of appropriate standards and the supervision of their implementation.

The situation in Italy and the regulatory process up to the present day

In Italy it was the law 80 of 1898 to make occupational accident insurance compulsory, while Royal Decrees of 1899 issued the first health and safety regulations:

  • Royal Decree on the 'General Regulation for the Prevention of Accidents in Quarries and Mines'.
  • Royal Decree on the 'General Regulation for the Prevention of Accidents in Enterprises and Industries Dealing with Explosive Materials'.

At the beginning of the new century, in 1912, Law 1361 established theLabour Inspectoratewhereas subsequent regulations were only issued after the end of the Second World War. In a period of great building activism for post-war reconstruction, the first organic national 'corpus' of preventive regulations was drawn up, consisting of several decrees issued in the 1950s, including the PRESIDENTIAL DECREE 164/56 on safety in construction work. The decrees established highly developed technical preventive standards for the time, the adoption of which was made mandatory for the employer, under penalty of criminal liability. However, the regulations issued did not give sufficient importance to the information, education, training and participation of workers in the health and safety aspects of their work.

The turning point at European level

Article 2087 of the Civil Code imposed an obligation on the employer to take all necessary measures to protect the physical integrity and moral personality of workers, not tying it to violations of preventative standards of the time, which could be overtaken by technological evolution. Subsequently, with the transposition of the social directives - issued by the European Community (now the European Union) in implementation of theArticle 153 of the 1957 Treaty of Rome - prescriptive-type standards, typical of the 1950s, evolved towards performance-type standards, in which risk assessment assumed an important role, beyond the existing technical regulatory standards. The new standards thus provided for the involvement of workers in the company's safety policy, focusing on the information, education and training of workers and introduced new professional figures into the company organisation chartThe persons in charge of the prevention and protection service (RSPP), competent doctors and safety coordinators.

Social directives gave rise first to Legislative Decree 277/91 on risks noise, lead and asbestostherefore Legislative Decree 626/94. As regards construction sites Legislative Decree 494/96 was issued, which implemented Directive 92/57/EEC. Further regulations followed on from those already issued in the 1950s resulting in an intertwining of non-integrated standards.

For this reason, a regulatory reorganisation was carried out in 2008 with the enactment of the Legislative Decree 81/2008amended and supplemented in subsequent years.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and new technologies

The use of personal protective equipment only began since the 20th centuryIn fact, the protective helmet was only intended for military use until the First World War. The first protective helmet for workers was designed and patented in 1919 by a Californian mining equipment company; it was made of canvas, glue and black paint and was first used in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Since then, there has been a significant technological evolution and this has allowed for greater protection for workers. According to a 2019 research by Impronta Business Solutions, the turnover of IPR manufacturers and distributors has reached an aggregate value of more than one billion euros in Italy alone. This growth, which has obviously not only affected our country, has also enabled us to provide greater protection to categories that have historically been more at risk, such as the isolated workers.

This was made possible by technological innovation that led to the development of the so-called man-down devices. These systems represented a turning point in the history of worker protection, enabling the transmission of automatic alarms capable of instantly alerting help when emergency situations such as falls, sickness or aggression occur.

man-to-ground deviceLooking to the future

The focus on security has increased even more since the pandemic and, both in terms of legislation and technological innovation, the process of evolution is still ongoing. In this context, the expert support can provide important help in identifying the most appropriate solutions for individual needs and prepare for the new things that the future holds.


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