Mock coffins fill a square in Milan in a protest over workplace safety in Italy

MILAN (AP) — Mock coffins filled one of Milan’s most famous squares Friday in a protest organized by Italy's second-largest union to raise awareness over workplace deaths.

Protesters lined up 172 cardboard coffins in Piazza La Scala to symbolize the exact number of workers who died on the job last year in the northern Lombardy region alone.

The UIL labor union said that it was demanding that both the government and businesses do more to protect Italian workers.

“Today is a day of anger, of anguish, because behind every coffin that we have put out here there are first names and last names,” explained UIL union leader Enrico Vezza, noting that 41 workers have already lost their lives in Lombardy this year.

The union’s campaign is titled “Zero Deaths.” A sign at the center of the piazza showed the number of workers who have died in the workplace since 2018, with a peak of 1,709 in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic sent deaths figures spiraling upwards in Italy.

Last year, 1,041 people died in the workplace in Italy.

According to European statistics agency Eurostat, Italy ranks eighth among European countries in fatalities at work, with an incidence of 2.66 per 100,000 employed, against the EU average of 1.76.

Friday’s protest comes amid a heated debate over workplace safety in Italy, following a series of fatalities across the country.

Earlier this month, five workers died at a sewage treatment plant near the southern city of Palermo, Sicily. In April, seven workers were killed in an explosion that collapsed several levels of an underground hydroelectric plant in northern Italy, while in mid-February five constructions workers died after a concrete beam collapsed at a supermarket building site in Florence.