The Malta Independent 26 November 2022, Saturday
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TMID Editorial: Increase deterrents for workplace infringements

Tuesday, 27 September 2022, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

The CEO of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority, Mark Gauci, made a strong point during an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, arguing that fines for infringements related to health and safety matters should be increased to serve as a greater deterrent against abuses.

He said that the minimum fine that can be given by a court of law when health and safety rules are not observed is €466 which, he said, in this day and age is too low. He said that a very comprehensive revision exercise is also being carried out and that a new system of administrative tribunals is also being looked into to speed up the process. Currently there are 600 cases which are waiting to be brought before the courts, which involve infringements on places of work. A process to reduce the backlog would be welcome.

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Malta has seen far too many work related accidents over the years, especially related to the construction sector. Gauci holds however that, when comparing the first 10 years of work with the second 10 years, the rate of work-related deaths has decreased by half. Regardless, we still too often hear about workplace accidents. The fact that there are fewer is good news, but more work needs to be done, and if increasing fines acts as a better deterrent, then this should be implemented.

We have all seen workmen hanging off of the side of buildings sitting on a plank of wood, with onlookers more worried for the safety of the worker than the worker themselves might be. The fact of the matter is that, when you are used to working in such ways, the thought of something going wrong or bad happening diminishes as time goes on, but the risks are still there. Employers must do their utmost to ensure that their workers are as safe as possible when conducting their jobs.

Gauci said that almost every accident, if not all, could have been avoided.

“Some accidents could have been avoided if parties were to be more informed on how to prevent them (in this case it would be a lack of compliance with the regulations from other duty holders, not the victim themselves).”

But it is not just about the employers. Employees must be more careful and vocal in their demands for health and safety. Certain jobs, like construction or manufacturing, in themselves involve more risk than others like desk jobs. Employees in such companies must hold their employers accountable and ensure that their workplace meets safety standards.

The question of exploitation of workers also comes to mind. Let’s not forget the incident where a migrant construction worker was allegedly dumped on the side of the road when injured. In such circumstances, criminal action against those treating fellow human beings like animals is to be the order of the day.

The OHSA chief said that the OHSA can never have enough resources. “In fact, it wants to offer other services, such as the creation of more guidelines and research, such as what is known as Horizon scanning, which would help identify problems before they come out.”

But he makes an interesting point. “Many people think that the simple solution is to increase OHSA's resources. Presently it has 12 officials who monitor different places of work. With the 12 we have we are currently doing around 4,000 inspections a year, if these are going to be double, we can do 8,000 but you have to take into consideration the number of workplaces you have. In the last 10 years the number of permits handed out by the Planning Authority has tripled, meaning that the OHSA has three times the number of construction sites that it needs to monitor.” This, in addition to the fact that OHSA is not only responsible for construction sites, but other workplaces also.

“The solution is not to increase the resources for there to be more inspections, but the need to ensure that whoever has an obligation abides by it,” he said. And he is partially right. We need to ensure that employers abide by the regulations. Adding more resources to the OHSA’s inspection teams won’t hurt, but increasing deterrents for employers to make them really feel the sting for creating unsafe workspaces will, hopefully, result in less workplace accidents.

 

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