The Malta Independent 11 December 2019, Wednesday

Lack of training, skills licensing, are roots of problems in construction industry’ – Torpiano

Monday, 24 June 2019, 12:36 Last update: about 7 months ago

“It seems that the Government is reluctant to acknowledge that the lack of training, or the lack of skills licensing, are the roots of the problems of the industry”, the Dean for the Faculty of the Built Environment Alex Torpiano said.

In an open letter sent to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Torpiano, who has also led the Chamber of Architects in the past, described the new Avoidance of Damage to Third Party Property Regulations as released for consultation simply as “the fig-leaf that hides the serious regulatory flaws in the industry”, before also commenting on the need for more funding to regulatory office, and saying that the recently published list of masons is incomplete and practically useless.

“It is ironic that our ancestors had a clearer idea of the liabilities that arise from construction”, he said.  He noted that while architects receive a warrant after years of training for designing, instructing, and directing works, masons, who are responsible for the site and execution of the works, also need to undergo training to get a license from the state.

The list of licensed masons was published on Friday evening, but Torpiano noted that the list is “neither complete nor useful”.

“Without an ID card No., and without a validity period, the list is practically of no use to Periti or owners wishing to engage skilled craftsmen for their projects”, he said.

Even worse, he noted, the limited training that masons do receive is effectively designed for a construction industry that is based on stone construction as was the case decades ago, and does not take into account the much more complex, demanding and risky nature of the industry today.

“It seems that the Government is reluctant to acknowledge that the lack of training, or the lack of skills licensing, are the roots of the problems of the industry”, he said.

“The construction industry is currently like a big hospital where the doctors are trained, and are clearly required to take responsibility for their decisions and instructions; but contrary to common sense, none of the other hospital staff, that should support their work, are either adequately trained, or licensed, or even registered. Adding to the liabilities of the doctors would not, in these circumstances, make the health of the patients any better”, Torpiano wrote.

Commenting on the introduction of geotechnical investigations before undertaking excavations or designing foundations for new buildings, Torpiano said that while this is correct and not contradicted by any architect, the focus on “the possible impact of geotechnical conditions on excavation, or building, works adjacent to existing properties, is not matched by any concern about the impact of demolition works on party walls of existing buildings, or the direct impact on existing buildings when additional floors are erected on walls, and on foundations and ground conditions, which were not conceived for that load.”

“Why are the regulators not asking for mandatory full structural analysis of adjacent buildings, before such works are undertaken? Does anybody think that building on existing buildings is less risky than building on our typical ground conditions?”

“The problems need to be addressed holistically, and not through a hastily drafted amendment of an intrinsically deficient Legal Notice”, Torpiano said.

Torpiano said that in simple terms, architects are asking for the serious implementation of the laws that already exist, citing several laws such as that of the certification of products, the publication of proper lists of licensed masons, the issuing of licences and registration of building contractors and tradespersons, the provision of resources to create proper training facilities for building and construction contractors, operatives and tradesmen, amongst others, as examples of what needs to be enforced so that the requirements of the Building Regulation Act do not remain “a dead letter”.

“The Government’s apparent reluctance to acknowledge that these failings are major contributors to the problems in the industry raises the question: why do governments enact laws if they then have no intention of providing resources to make such legislation effective?” he queried.

“A lot of time has been wasted, over the last five years, as a result of the misguided notion that building control regulations ought to be placed within the remit of the Planning Authority; it seems that it has finally been acknowledged that this was not a good idea”, Torpiano noted.

“However, rather than move rapidly with the preparation ofmodern Building Regulations, yet another Authority was proposed, progress on which has been very sluggishover the last nine months”, he said.

He said that the Chamber of Architects had immediately given their public support to the setting up of the authority, but that this was done in “the expectation that the creation of a proper suite of building and regulations would be expedited”.

The Building Regulation Office was meant to be central to this, but “continues to receive funding that is barely sufficient to cover the needs of a village festa”, Torpiano wrote.

“Why does Government not immediately vote a ten-fold increase in the budget approved for the BRO, possibly funded from the considerable monies paid by the construction industry to another regulatory entity?”, he questioned.

“Is public safety improved by merely increasing the level of fines? Is the public more reassured because more insurance money is available to compensate, if something goes wrong? Public safety should be about creating a scenario where accidents are avoided, and not simply systems how to ascribe blame.”

Concluding, Torpiano said that this is why the profession is “unhappy”, quoting the words of the Prime Minister himself.

“It is because the profession isvery concerned about public safety –the discussions in Friday’s EGM, and the motions approved, were all about how best to achieve public safety, within the ages-old, simple, liability structure that is enshrined in our laws”, he wrote, referring to resolutions passed during an EGM called by the Chamber of Architects late last week.

“It is disappointing that, although there is yet another piece of legislation that requires Government to do so, your Government has declined to discuss the issues directly with the Kamra tal-Periti, relying instead on individuals who might not be as knowledgeable with the real issues on the construction site”, he lamented.

“There is the perception that is easier for developers to have your attention, even if, in fact, they are not necessarily contractors, familiar with the risks of construction. I have no problem with that. However, I am also aware that there are some very experienced and qualified contractors, who deeply understand the construction process, and who agree with the position of the Kamra tal-Periti. It is a pity that they do not have as strong a voice.”

“The Kamra tal-Periti, representing as it does the body of knowledge embedded in all local professionals, including those who have worked on major projects abroad, has declared itself available to seriously discuss the measures that would really guarantee public safety.”

“Rather than simply blame ‘rogue periti’, why do you not listen to the profession?”, Torpiano asked the Prime Minister.

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