Workplace Deaths: "Spiral of Solidarity"

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Here is a testimony from the book entitled "Morti Bianche"(Workplace Deaths), written by Samanta Di Persio and available free of charge on this blog.
"My name is Vanessa Sciancalepore, cousin of Michele Tasca. On 3 March 2008 a tragedy occurred at the Truck Centre of Molfetta, a company specialising in the cleaning of tanker trucks. The causes of the drama that brought tore our family apart are not yet certain. All I know is that the first worker who climbed into the tanker, which belonged to the Government Railway Company, in order to commence with the cleaning operations never emerged again. The tanker truck needed to be cleaned out because it had apparently been used to transport sulphur. Subsequently my cousin and his colleague climbed into the tank simultaneously. It would appear that while they were climbing down into the tank they lost consciousness because of the high levels of some lethal substance contained in the tank. The substance that caused the deaths could perhaps have been hydrogen sulphide. What is certain however is that Michele died as a hero because he was trying to save another worker.
All of these people died while attempting to save each other, a veritable chain of solidarity that cut short the lives of Michele and another four men, namely, the 60-year old owner of the Truck Centre, Vincenzo Altomare, 44-year old Guglielmo Mangano, 24-year old Biagio Sciancalepore and 37-year old Luigi Farina, all of whom were specialised workers.
On that fateful Tuesday, my sister returned home at around 18h00 and said: “Vane, Michele has been involved in an accident and it seems to be very serious”. When I heard her words I felt the blood draining from my face. I felt afraid and didn’t want to believe what I was hearing. My response was: “Oh my God!” I charged off in the direction of the hospital. I wanted to go and see my cousin. While I was trying to find him, I kept on telling myself that he would recover. When I arrived at the entrance to his ward, they refused to let me in and all I could see were my mother and my aunt, who were in tears.
At that moment I realised that the situation was indeed critical. On the day of the accident, my mother and my aunt had been together, doing some household chores. A friend of the family had come to inform them that some sort of tragedy had occurred at the Truck Centre and that a number of people had died, but that Michele was not amongst these. So they immediately tried to call my cousin on his mobile phone. A doctor took the call, saying that the youngster was in a very serious condition. My mother and my aunt then ran to the hospital but they only managed to get a glimpse of him as he was being transferred to another hospital. Michele will be remembered as the last of the workers who died on that fateful day. Initially the doctors did not hold out any hope for him, but when they noticed that he was still breathing, he was initially taken to the Molfetta Hospital and subsequently transferred to the Monopoli Hospital trauma centre. At 05h30 on the morning of the 4th March my cousin’s heart stopped beating as a result of the serious injury to his lungs. I only discovered this an hour after his death.
I had spent the whole of the previous night praying for his recovery. For the whole night I had held the rosary beads in my hand, hoping that he would awake once again, even though in my heart of hearts I knew that this was impossible. This was certainly the longest and most painful night of my entire life. It will be difficult to ever forget this event.
It is impossible to find appropriate words to describe the immense pain that one feels at such times. The last time I saw him he was laid out on a hospital bed. His blue eyes were closed, he almost appeared to be sleeping and his head was heavily bandaged. Only a small tuft of hair peeped out. I was not allowed to touch him. I just wanted to hug him, to tell him that I loved him and that he would be okay. But it didn’t happen. Now, some months after his death, it hurts so much not being able to see him and the pain is enormous. Missing him has become a kind of torment. Simply looking at him in family photographs is not enough. I sometimes almost believe that I hear his voice or see him on the street, but it is all in my imagination. I go to sleep at night hoping to wake up realising that it was all a terrible nightmare, or hoping that he will come to me in a dream. Michele was a special guy and I say this not simply because he was my cousin but because this is the truth. He had a pair of huge and very expressive blue eyes. He was fun to be with, upbeat, well mannered, sincere, gentle, sensitive, reserved and a hard worker. He started working at a very early age, initially as a barman and then as a tanker truck cleaner. Even while he was still at school, during the summer he worked part time as a seasonal worker in a number of hotels, working as a cook. He worked at a variety of summer and winter seasonal jobs in order to be able to pay off his car. He loved house music and cars, and his favourite soccer teams were Milan and, of course, Bari. He had no bad habits other than perhaps the fact that he was a smoker. One thing that I am certain about, however, is that he loved life.
I cannot recall him ever being sad and his smile was his trademark, even during the very rare arguments in which he was involved. He never caused any fights and always tried to make light of everything. He was always ready with some or other crack and it was impossible to get mad at him and not to love him. Michele and I were extremely close, we got on well with each other and we often went out together. He was thoughtful and would never leave me all alone. Every time that he returned home after one of his seasonal jobs, he always brought me a little present. Michele and I were the same age and we were inseparable. At our age, we dreamt of many things, but certainly neither of us ever considered the possibility of one of us dying. When one’s life is marked by a tragedy such as this, things inevitably change. I feel more afraid. My aunt has once again begun to smile, even if only outwardly. One’s work takes your mind off the pain, however, now and again you find yourself staring into space and the memories of that day return to haunt you. I keep asking myself how something like this could have happened.
I get angry with the Italian Government because of its failure to be strict enough in enforcing the regulations, and so everyone tends to do whatever they wish because they are never punished. I would like to see the Government doing more to tackle these problems before such accidents occur rather than stepping in only once it is already too late. But I have also noted that the Government still fails to step in, even after the event. They promised us the sun, the moon and the stars and they promised us jobs, but now, three months later, they have apparently forgotten all about us. I lived in Germany until some three years ago. Things are very different over there and not once did I ever see a worker not wearing his safety helmet or missing other safety equipment. Obviously the penalties and the inspections are imposed using very different criteria to those applicable in Italy.
Why should we have to run the risk of being killed at work? The only justification I have been able to come up with in response to such pain is that God, and Michele’s dad who passed away 20 years ago, wanted to have him at their side. Perhaps my cousin was too good to live in a world so full of cruelty, falseness and injustice. However, my torment continues: why did this have to happen to him? Everything around me reminds me of him and sometimes, at night, I almost begin to believe that the brightest star in the heavens is none other than Michele himself and that he is watching over me."
Samanta Di Persio from the book entitled "Morti Bianche".

Posted by Beppe Grillo at 09:50 AM in | Comments (1)
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This is a tragedy. There are too many workplace deaths all over the world every year. Here in Australia the deaths continue because of ineffective legislation which makes compliance to health and safety regulations virtually a non-issue for employers. The lack of effective regulation and the absent political interest in pursuing those employers responsible for breaches of occupational heath and safety legislation indicate one thing: the protection of big business to the detriment of workers.

The change required to reverse workplace deaths is simultaneously complicated and simple. It is complicated because of the power of the business interests involved; businesses are unlikely to support law reforms aimed at making them and their managers more readily accountable for workplace deaths and, given the amount donated to political parties in Australia by these businesses, they have a sympathetic political ear. But it is also simple because the allegiance should be with fellow humans and not big business, and this is not so hard to understand or to argue is right.

The response to this issue needs to be coherent and uncompromising. Campaigning for workplace rights goes to the heart of all we demand from politicians when we call for their support to be directed to those they are intended to represent and not the businesses which take them out for lunch and buy them pretty things.

Posted by: Christina Elisabeth | August 27, 2008 04:40 PM


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