Construction failure kills 5 in Italy

Concrete beam cited in collapse of supermarket being built

Rescue workers arrive at the scene of an accident at a construction site in Florence, Italy, Friday Feb. 16, 2024. An accident at a supermarket construction site in the Italian city of Florence on Friday killed at least one worker and left four others missing, officials said. (Marco Bucco/LaPresse via AP)
Rescue workers arrive at the scene of an accident at a construction site in Florence, Italy, Friday Feb. 16, 2024. An accident at a supermarket construction site in the Italian city of Florence on Friday killed at least one worker and left four others missing, officials said. (Marco Bucco/LaPresse via AP)

ROME -- A fifth construction worker was confirmed dead Saturday after a concrete beam and slabs collapsed at a supermarket building site in the city of Florence a day earlier, Italian officials said.

Search teams were working to reach the body under the rubble. Earlier, firefighters' spokesman Luca Cari told Italian TV channel RaiNews that emergency personnel had recovered the body of a fourth worker.

"The mass of rubble is enormous," Cari said. "It will take time to secure the site."

A group of workers were putting together prefabricated concrete structures for a new Esselunga supermarket on Friday when, according to initial reports, a reinforced concrete beam toppled over a layer of slabs, which then collapsed, trapping eight men.

Rescue teams pulled out three workers who were taken to local hospitals, where they were reported to be in serious condition but not suffering life-threatening injuries.

Preliminary assessments indicated the accident happened because of a "structural collapse" of the concrete beam, which may have been caused by a misplacement or defect in its composition, officials said.

Florence prosecutors have ordered an investigation into the collapse, taking into consideration charges of negligence and multiple manslaughter, but no suspects have been named at this stage.

Esselunga President Marina Caprotti issued condolences on Friday and promised to cooperate with the investigation. She said the construction work for the new store was outsourced to a third party.

Pope Francis sent his condolences to the victims' families on Saturday in a telegram to Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, the archbishop of Florence, that expressed "heartfelt participation in the sorrow of the entire community."

Francis called for heightened vigilance and safety at all workplaces, and said he hoped for "greater commitment from those responsible for protecting workers."

Florence Mayor Dario Nardella declared Saturday as a day of mourning in the city.

The collapse rattled an already frazzled country that has suffered in recent years a string of deadly worker-related accidents amid heated political debates over poor and risky working conditions.

Most recently, in August, five rail workers were killed after being hit by a high-speed train while doing maintenance work on the railway.

In 2021, the last year for which there is official data from the European Union statistics agency Eurostat, Italy registered 601 workplace deaths. It was the second-highest figure in the EU after France that year. Across the 27-nation EU, 22.5% of all fatal workplace accidents took place within the construction sector.

Italy's largest unions harshly criticized the government for not addressing workplace safety issues, particularly subcontracting criteria, and announced national strikes in the coming weeks.

"In 2023, there were 1,000 deaths at work, and often these accidents were the result of subcontracting," Maurizio Landini, the leader of Italy's CGIL union, said. He criticized a system that he said allows big companies that win major bids to hire subcontractors to do the work at lower prices.

Landini said it was Premier Giorgia Meloni's Cabinet "that amended the procurement code and reintroduced the subcontracting cascade."

The ruling League party in turn criticized Landini, calling his linking of workplace deaths to the government's reintroduction of subcontracting "disgusting."

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