Pope Francis said that human life is the most important asset to protect in the workplace, and lamented the many lives lost in work-related accidents or disease every year.
“People are the real wealth: without them, there is no working community, no enterprise, no economy,” the pope said on Jan. 20 in an audience with the Italian Association of Private Construction Contractors.
“Workplace safety means safeguarding human resources, which are of inestimable value in the eyes of God and also in the eyes of the true entrepreneur,” he added.
In 2021, 1,404 people died in work accidents in Italy, according to the Independent National Observatory on Work Deaths. Of these, 695 happened in the actual workplace, as opposed to off-site — an 18% increase from 2020. Just over 30% of deaths were in the agricultural sector, while 15% were in construction.
The numbers do not include COVID-19 related deaths.
The International Labour Organization estimates that 2.3 million people lose their lives in work-related accidents or diseases every year worldwide.
“Last year, too many people died at work,” Pope Francis said in his speech to Italian construction workers. “They are not numbers, they are people.”
“Construction sites, too, have seen tragedies that we cannot ignore. Unfortunately, if we look at safety in the workplace as a cost, we are starting from the wrong assumption. People are the real wealth,” he underlined.
Francis stated that people are the highest patrimony, and workplace safety “allows everyone to express the best of themselves while earning their daily bread.”
“The more we take care of the dignity of work, the more certain we are that the quality and beauty of the work carried out will increase,” he said.
In his speech, the pope also shared some teachings of the Gospel which he said could help builders in their work.
In particular, he pointed to Jesus’ parable about the man who built his house on sandy ground, an unstable foundation.
“Of course, Jesus is not thinking of great buildings, but he points out that these constructions are built by the river, while the good builder knows that at the first flood such a house is destined to be swept away,” Francis said.
The man who builds his house on the rock, instead, “not only did the right thing in the present moment; he also defended the house from possible future floods.”
“In Jesus’ preaching, the believer is one who does not limit himself to appearing Christian on the outside, but who actively works as a Christian,” Pope Francis said.
“And it is precisely this ‘operational consistency’ that enables him to build himself up not only in the normal times of life but to remain so even in difficult moments,” the pope continued. “This also means that faith does not protect us from bad weather, but, accompanied by good works, it strengthens us and makes us capable of resisting it.”