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Time for action on tragic toll of construction site deaths – FAA

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Taht-l-Irdum.JPGWithin only the first week of the new year, Malta can already boast of the tragic toll of two construction site deaths. Where previously one used to say that no steps are taken until a tragedy occurs, we now have the situation where scores of tragedies have taken place and still nothing is being done.

Construction projects are now being undertaken on a far more ambitious scale than they used to be in the past, and yet safety measures have not increased to reflect the increased dangers, with both construction-site workers as well as neighbours exposed to far greater dangers than in the past. Responsibility for this lies not with MEPA, but with the Construction and Building Industry Regulations Department within the Ministry of Infrastructure and Resources One asks what initiatives Minister Ninu Zammit is taking in this regard, as well as what action is being taken by the Building Industry Consultative Council (BICC) under the chairmanship of Perit Robert Musumeci?

A cursory look at most building sites reveals workers still working at heights without harnesses and hard hats. In many recent incidents, it is malfunctioning heavy machinery that has been the cause of the accident. The importation of second-hand plant and machinery is unregulated; equipment which is already potentially non-compliant with current EU safety standards is being imported with impunity into Malta. Such equipment is put to work on building sites without being subjected to the required risk assessment that should clearly show whether the machinery in question can be utilised in a manner that does not expose the user to any significant risk of injury.

Lack of adequate training, as well as the widespread use of foreign labour, is exposing both foreign workers and their local colleagues to extra dangers, due to lack of familiarity with building practices as well as to problems of communication.

With the rate of town-centre re-development increasing dramatically, neighbours of building sites are being exposed to dangers which leave them in daily fear of life and limb within their own homes. While at least environmental problems have started to be addressed, there seems to be no attempt whatsoever to tackle the more pressing question of preventing accidents. How many more have to die before the relevant authorities are stirred from their lethargy on this issue?

In a second Santa Maria Estate case, more residents’ houses have been damaged and Triq ta’ Taht l-Irdum is in imminent danger of collapse because of unregulated construction. Residents seeking help from the authorities have been sent from pillar to post as every government department and authority they turn to washes their hands for lack of clear legislation to deal with these situations. Legislation which residents have rightly been demanding for years.

FAA appeals to the Church Commission on the Environment, NGOs working for immigrants’ rights, trade unions, environmental NGOs, residents’ associations, local councils and civilised society in general to come together in condemning this unchecked and senseless state of affairs where lives are lost carelessly without any steps being taken by those who under different circumstances may be found guilty of manslaughter or even murder.

There can be no mincing of words here since everyone knows of the dangers, accidents have and are happened and little or no action is being taken by those authorities which are legally and duty bound to take action. This is a national, repeated crime against the individual’s lives and quality of life.

FAA feels that the time for Government is now to show who is managing the country: Is those who in the construction industry (be it unscrupulous property owners, speculators, developers, contractors or architects) or is the Government of Malta duly elected in power by the Maltese electorate which expects its leaders to enact and enforce laws in its name?

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