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Workers are, of course, the focus of the entire regulation concerning health and safety at work (OSH). However, their role is not to be considered as a passive one; they are required to be actively involved. In fact, workers are entitled:

  • through their trade unions representatives, to control the implementation of regulations related to occupational accidents and diseases and to promote the adoption of all prevention measures aimed to protect their health and physical integrity (Art. 9 of the Statute of the workers’ rights, Law 300/1970) [1];
  • to choose or elect in the production unit their Safety Representative (RLS)[2];
  • to verify, through the RLS, the adoption of measures concerning safety and health protection [2] .

Regulatory framework for worker participation

The definition of worker involvement is laid down in the Directives n. 2001/86 [3] and 2002/14 [4], 2003/72 [5], and refers to “every mechanism, including information, consultation and participation, through which employee representatives may determine decisions to be adopted within the company".

In Italy, the transposition of these Directives, initially with the Legislative Decree 626/94 [6] and then with the Legislative Decree 81/08 [2], represented a great step ahead as far as workers’ rights and their representation are concerned. It created a new concept and a different approach to safety at workplace, based above all on worker participation through a new actor elected by the same workers: the Safety Representative (RLS).

Worker consultation and participation are fundamental to shape a safety culture, and for this reason the RLS’s role has been reinforced and through that, the workers’ one as well. The main legislative source for worker information and consultation on OSH at European level is the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC [7]. The Directive was transposed into Italian Law by the Legislative Decree n. 81 of April 9th 2008 [2], the current OSH national legislation.

OSH and worker participation

The Italian system of social dialogue consists of three levels: cross-industry, sectoral and company. This institutional system of negotiations at various levels between the social partners results in the conclusion of collective labour agreements (CLAs). Collective labour agreements (national, inter confederation and sectoral agreements) are entrusted to establish:

  • the number, the nomination or election modalities of RLS, remunerated working time and the instruments to accomplish their tasks;
  • election or nomination modalities for safety representatives at territorial level (RLST),
  • identification modalities for the RLS in production sites, and his specific tasks.

The agreements on the RLS rights have been developing since the establishment of this representation (Legislative Decree 626/1994 [6]) in all sectors and they have been renewed in the light of the changes occurred in the current OSH national legislation. Some significant examples are the agreements between trade unions Cgil, Cisl, Uil and Craftsmanship Associations (renewed on 13th September 2011) [8] and the one between trade unions Cgil, Cisl ,Uil, and Confapi (Confederazione italiana della piccola e media industria privata - Italian Confederation of SMEs) (renewed on 20th September 2011) [9].

Cross-industry level

In Italy there are consultative bodies which provide a forum for advice and dialogue between social partners on OSH: The Permanent Advisory Committee for health and safety at work (Commissione Consultiva Permanente per la salute e la sicurezza sul lavoro) (Article 6 of Legislative Decree 81/2008) [2], established at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies and chaired by a representative of this Ministry, and the Regional Committees of coordination (Comitati regionali di coordinamento) (Article 7 of Legislative Decree 81/2008) [2] chaired by the President of the regional council or a regional councillor.

The Regional Committees of coordination are aimed at the coordination of prevention, information, training and surveillance activities concerning safety at work, between, on the one hand, all territorial Bodies and, on the other, the social partners in compliance with current laws and regulations. The main function of the Committees concerns risk prevention at work in all production sectors, by means of guidelines, protocols, agreements with public and private bodies, and legislation proposals. Moreover, the Committees enhance the information activity by promoting conferences and seminars, deliverables addressed to both workers and stakeholders.

Sectoral level

Joint Committees

According to Article 2, paragraph 1, letter ee) of Legislative Decree n. 81/2008 [2], the Joint Committees are to be intended as those organisations established upon the initiative of one or more associations of employers and workers, comparatively more representative at national level, as privileged platforms for:

  • planning of training activities as well as processing and gathering of good practices with prevention purposes;
  • development of actions concerning health and safety at work;
  • support and assistance provided to enterprises, aimed at the implementation and compliance with relevant legal requirements;
  • every other activity or function legally assigned or included into collective agreements of reference;

They are joint because the number of employees’ and employers’ representatives are equal. Such organisations are established at territorial and/or sectoral level and are a first instance of reference in relation to controversies emerging from issues on the application of representation, information and training rights, provided for in the current laws and regulations. The joint organizations may support the enterprises in identifying technical and organization solutions aimed at guaranteeing and improving the protection of health and safety at workplace. Their staff, specifically trained at technical level on OSH issues, may carry out audits in companies located in the territories and working in the production sectors of competence. The joint organisations carry on or promote training activities, and, upon request of the company, issue a certificate recording the pursuance of the assistance activities and services to the company. For this purpose, joint organizations establish specific joint boards, with appropriate technical competences. The joint organizations communicate the names of safety representatives at territorial level to the companies, as stated in the Article 48, paragraph 2 of Legislative Decree n. 81/2008 [2]. A similar communication is made to the surveillance organisms with territorial competence.The joint committees communicate the names of the companies which adhered to the joint committees system and the name(s) of safety representatives at territorial level (these names are then forwarded to the interested companies) to INAIL (Italian Workers’ compensation Authority) [10].

The joint committees carry out, also by means of agreements, activities of information, assistance and support, consulting, training, promotion related to health and safety at workplace, in particular addressed to craftsmanship and agriculture sectors, small and medium enterprises and their respective employers’ associations.

Company level

Indirect participation of workers

The worker representative for safety The worker representative for safety (RLS) plays a crucial intermediary role between the employer and the workers. He is elected or appointed by workers through different modalities according to the number of employees in the production unit and he has the possibility of visiting workplaces and examining the documents. The minimum number of safety representatives is as follow:

  • a safety representative in companies, or production units, including up to 200 workers;
  • three safety representatives in companies, or production units, with a number comprised between 201 and 1.000 workers;
  • six safety representatives in every other company, or production unit, with more than 1.000 workers.

In companies or production units which employ no more than 15 employees, the safety representative is legally elected directly by workers or he is identified for more than one company at territorial or sectoral level; in such a case, we refer to the Safety Representative at territorial level (RLST). Safety Representative at production site level, refers to specific production sites characterized by the presence of more companies or construction sites. In such a case, the Safety Representative is appointed, upon workers’ initiative, among the same Safety representatives of companies operating in the production site.


  • to access workplaces;
  • to promote the processing, the identification and the implementation of prevention measures and actions addressed to protect workers’ health and physical integrity;
  • to formulate comments during visits and inspections carried out by the competent authorities;
  • to make proposals concerning prevention activities;
  • to inform the responsible people on identified risks during own activity;
  • to appeal to competent authorities in case he considers that the risk prevention measures and means adopted by the employer are not suitable to guarantee health and safety.

The first 5 rights of the above list are all based on a rationale of collaboration and cooperation: the RLS is included and contributes to the company OSH management system through the experience and expertise of workers he represents. On the other hand, the sixth right puts the safety representative in a conflict position resulting from the failure of collaboration and cooperation actions.


  • to inform the responsible people on identified risks during own activity;
  • to take part to periodical prevention meetings and to consultation phases;
  • to maintain confidentiality as regards company working processes.


  • he receives company information and documents concerning risk assessment, prevention measures, any dangerous substances, machineries, equipment, organization and working environments, occupational accidents and diseases;
  • he receives information coming from surveillance services;
  • he receives information by the occupational physician on any changes concerning the periodicity of health surveillance, according to legislative standards;
  • he receives information regarding the exposure to chemical agents and other risk factors, as well as on the results of the biological monitoring


  • the training course consists of at least 32 hours on the issues defined in the regulation. A periodical updating of 4 hours per year is established for companies employing a number comprised between 15 and 50 employees and, at least, of 8 hours per year for companies employing more than 50 employees.
  • the training shall be taken during working hours and shall not bear any economic burden for the workers
  • The training shall be performed in collaboration with the territorial joint committees.


  • risk identification and assessment, timely planning, realization and monitoring of prevention actions ;
  • appointment of the personnel in charge of the SPP (Prevention and Protection Service) (including the responsible person) and identification of “special tasks"
  • organization of training for workers appointed to perform special tasks
  • all the issues addressed in the prevention periodical meeting .


  • the representative is not subjected to any prejudice (i.e. disciplinary measures, reprisals, mobbing, etc.) because of the performance of his activity
  • the representative benefits the same protection as legally provided to trade union representations
  • no loss in remuneration shall occur

In the public administration, the ARAN (Agency for the Negotiating Representation of Public Administrations) [11] and the major trade union organisations have subscribed, with the Government’s authorisation, a framework agreement to regulate the role of Safety Representative [12]. In this agreement, the following is established :

  • modalities and procedures for the election or the appointment of Safety Representatives;
  • terms of the assignment;
  • number of safety representatives considering the Administration or Production Unit size;
  • remunerated hourly permits;
  • powers.

Direct participation of workers

Worker participation to the company prevention system is realized not only in an indirect way, through their representation, but also through information and training activities, provided by employers. Information regards:

  • risks concerning company in general;
  • risks related to a specific task;
  • hazards related to the use of dangerous substances;
  • Technical and organization prevention measures;
  • First aid procedures , fire-fighting intervention and escape in case of fire.

Training, guaranteed to every worker, carried on during working hours and completely paid for by the company, has to be performed:

  • upon the recruitment, before the work is started;
  • during the change of tasks;
  • when technological changes occur in the production process and in all relevant equipment (machineries, appliances, devices, tools, equipment, substances, dangerous materials, etc.).

INAIL Dept. Of Occupational Medicine carried out an interesting study [1] on workers’ and RLS’ s participation and involvement to the company OSH management system and to the psycho-social risks and work related stress prevention. The aim of this study was to examine the level of workers’ participation in health and safety in the banking sector, focusing primarily on issues related to well-being, organisation processes and the worker-organization interface. For the purposes of this study, a questionnaire was given to workers to determine the level of active participation in safety. The sample consisted of 2.100 subjects from the credit sector distributed throughout Italy. Regarding “information, training, consultation and participation of workers, or of their safety representatives", 64.9% of respondents did not feel that they were actively participating in occupational safety initiatives and only 33.8% felt that they were. 57.1% of respondents indicated that they had participated in occupational safety training initiatives, and 41.9% indicated that they had not participated in such initiatives. As regards actions taken to promote safety and well-being in the organisation, 45.2% of respondents felt that they were participating “a little", 28.2% that they were participating “not at all", 22.3% that their participation was “fair", and only 3% felt they were participating “significantly" in these initiatives. As regards prevention and safety, 56.6% of respondents did not feel that they were participating at all in any of the phases of intervention, whereas 18.3% felt that they were participating in the “assessment" phase, 13.6% in the “implementation" phase, and 8.8% in the “safety management" phase.

Regarding “information, training, consultation and participation of workers’ safety representatives", a questionnaire was submitted to 67 RLS in Italy and in order to deepen the issue two Focus groups were created and 20 workers’ safety representatives (RLS) from medium-sized banks from many Italian Regions, were invited to attend them. From the results of the questionnaire and from the focus groups appear a contradiction about the perception of the RLS role and the recognition of that role by the Italian Banking sector. The research underlines a “role insufficiency", due to the failure of the organisation to make full use of the RLS’s abilities, associated with the RLS “sense of responsibility" for the health and safety of the colleagues, recognizing in this lack of role a potential for causing psychological or physical harm. Other important factors are a poor communication at workplace, a lack of information and a little participation of the RLS in the double role of worker and workers’ safety representatives, all these elements operate and interact to various extents and in different ways. Regarding the RLS participation, 40.7% of respondents didn’t feel that they were participating in occupational safety and health management, 75.9% of respondents declared that they had not been consulted on risk assessment connected to work-related stress, while 71.9% indicated that they were not involved in the drafting of the risk assessment document.

The results obtained from the questionnaire are in line with those gathered from the focus groups. The worker in the RLS role is highly motivated and involved in carrying out the functions requested, even if the company rarely consults him regarding the health and safety at work regulations. The RLS generally state that the company “formally fulfils" the risk assessment document without evaluating in detail the real working conditions. In relation to this situation some RLS, not previously involved, reported having appealed to the competent authorities because the prevention and protection measures taken by the employer were not appropriate.


[1] Legge 300/1970;300!vig=

[2] Legislative Decree n. 81, April 9th 2008, Implementation of the Article 1 of the Act no. 123, August 3rd 2007, concerning the protection of health and safety at workplaces (in Italian)

[3] Council Directive 2001/86/CE of 8tg October 2001 supplementing the Statute for a European company with regard to the involvement of employees.

[4] Directive 2002/14/CE of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11th March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community – Joint Declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation.!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=EN&numdoc=32002L0014&model=guichett

[5] Council Directive 2003/72/CE of 22 July 2003 supplementing the Statute for a European Cooperative Society with regard to the involvement of employees.!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&numdoc=32003L0072&model=guichett&lg=en

[6] Legislative Decree n. 626, 18th September 1994, Implementation of Directive 89/391/ECC, 89/654/ECC, 89/655/EEC, 89/656/EEC, 90/269/EEC, 90/270/EEC, 90/394/EEC e 90/679/EEC on the improvement of safety and health of workers at the workplace.

[7] Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12th June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work, OJ L 183, 29.6.1989.

[8] Collective labour agreement Cgil Cisl Uil and Handicraft Associations.

[9] Collective labour agreement Cgil Cisl Uil and CONFAPI.

[10] INAIL – Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority (2008). Home page. Retrieved on 28 February 2013

[11] ARAN – Agenzia per la Rappresentanza Negoziale delle Pubbliche Amministrazioni (no date). Home page. Retrieved on 28 February 2013

[12] Framework Agreement of 10th July 1986 on Workers’ Representatives for safety (in Italian).

[13] INAIL Rischi psicosociali, partecipazione attiva e prevenzione. Ricerca nazionale nel settore del credito.

Further reading

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER): Managing safety and health at work, European Risk Observatory Report, 2010.

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker representation and consultation on health and safety: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) 2012, Available at

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2012) Healthy Workplaces Campaign 212-13 – Working together for risk prevention. Retreived on 30 January 2013.

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety at work in SMEs: Strategies for employee information and consultation, 2010.

Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Social Dialogue and Working Conditions, 2011.

Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Workplace employee representation in Europe, 2012.

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Francesca Grosso