The Malta Independent 18 April 2024, Thursday
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MCCM president calls for proper enforcement of safety practices in construction industry

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 16 April 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

The licensing of contractors, while a positive step, will fail to reach its objective unless followed by proper enforcement of safety practices in the construction industry, President of the Malta Chamber of Construction Management Jesmond Chetcuti said.

"The licencing of contractors law is a good step, but unless it is followed by proper enforcement of the other existing laws (like the H&S Act), this licence will fail to reach its objective," he said.

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The construction industry has often been put under a negative spotlight, following unfortunate, sometimes fatal tragedies.

The government has only last month approved a framework for the licensing of contractors. Building contractors who do not apply for a licence by 1 November 2023 will not be allowed to operate.

Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi had said that when this licence becomes compulsory, there will be a distinction between those contractors who want to work seriously and those who do not. The aim is to ensure better regulation of the sector, better quality, and more enforcement, he had said.

This, however, will not make a difference if specific obligations, especially those concerning health and safety, are still disregarded, Chetcuti told The Malta Independent on Sunday. The MCCM’s main scope is to represent the professionals and all people who have management duties and responsibilities within the construction industry.

“Even though a certain level of H&S is required by the applicants, considering the level of H&S on existing sites, I think this is not given enough weight, especially when it comes to the revocation of any licence,” he said.

Chetcuti said that one of the problems is that a number of developers look for the cheapest, most of the time without knowing,= that cheaper prices means cheaper service and cutting corners in both quality and standards.

“Some developers look only at the profits, going for ‘cheap’ contractors. By doing this, quality is sacrificed, standards are lowered and most of the time the welfare of the workers and even third parties suffers,” Chetcuti said.

Chetcuti feels that reports by health and safety advisors who go to construction sites are often ignored.

“These H&S advisors end up demotivated and their work is not appreciated,” Chetcuti said.

He said that often, contractors turn a blind eye to the recommendations, as there is no proper enforcement.

He said that scaffoldings have become ‘death traps’ rather than a safe working system, and it is not as easy as simply drafting a law about licensing of contractors and expect that all will be solved.

“For a scaffold to be used, this should be certified by a competent person, which rarely happens. Even the workers erecting such structures, most of the time are not even trained or certified, thus we are allowing untrained workers to build a temporary structure whose purpose is to provide a safe system to work at height, but which is questionably built,” Chetcuti said.

“If contracts between developer and contractor become mandatory and these contracts are to contain a certain minimum of information, then it will be more difficult for the rogue and cowboy contractors to survive, as if they don’t abide the conditions of these contracts they will have to face the consequences,” Chetcuti said.

Chetcuti said that there are many contractors who work properly, and as a result feel disadvantaged as working up to standard may reflect in the price asked for to developers.

He said that in some foreign countries there is no need to license contractors as the high standards required by clients is high and the same clients make sure that what they are paying for they are getting.

“If someone appoints you to do a good job, you should do a good job. There shouldn’t have to be the need for the police, an entity or an authority to ensure that you do your job correctly, as there are contractual obligations,” Chetcuti said.

Asked if the law of the licensing of contractors should have been done earlier, Chetcuti said that it is the government’s prerogative when laws are put in place, but it is important to highlight that most of the time people do not know that there are already laws that cover certain aspects of the construction regime.

“Maybe more awareness of the existing laws and regulations will help,” he said.

Chetcuti said that the MCCM, after listening to what its members had to say, submitted a report with its feedback during the consultation period. Feedback that mostly focused on the management aspect of the regulations, he said.

He spoke about the importance of the Construction Project Manager, who is paramount in the lifecycle of a project.

One of the very first things that MCCM embarked on was the preparation and submission to the government of a draft law that will regulate the profession of the Construction Project Manager, thus bringing this profession on par with other professions within the industry, like in other countries, he said.

In light of some tragedies on construction sites, namely the death of Miriam Pace tragedy, after her Santa Venera home collapsed, and that of Jean Paul Sofia, who was killed in a construction site accident at Kordin last December, Chetcuti was asked about better safety practices on site.

“Following the Miriam Pace Tragedy, the government appointed a select committee made up of a pool of experts to review the existing practices and to follow with their recommendations to address bad practices. Even here, the MCCM appointed an internal working group who reviewed this report (The Quintano Report) and eventually submitted comments and recommendations,” he said.

Chetcuti added that the setting up of Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is one of the results of those recommendations, adding that upgrading and upscaling the industry is important.

He was asked whether there should be a public inquiry into the Jean Paul Sofia case, as well as all workplace deaths. Chetcuti did not comment, saying that this is in the government’s and the police’s hands, and what the Chamber does is to try to prevent accidents from happening, and minimising them, and not to say whether there should be inquiries.

Asked if the BCA is functioning as it should be, Chetcuti said that the authority was formed recently, and is still building its capacity, and that people must realise that for the resources it has, and for the time it has been there, a lot of work is going on.

When asked, Chetcuti did not comment on the recent conflict of interest where former BCA chair Maria Schembri Grima had to resign after the authority had to stop dangerous demolition works in a project she was leading in her private capacity as an architect.

The chairperson of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA) David Xuereb recently said that the construction industry is “a largely unregulated sector with no clear ambitions and values.”

Chetcuti said that he agreed with Xuereb, saying that the real reason we do not do certain things is because we do not want to. Chetcuti, who worked and lived in the UK for a number of years, said that the standards in this country are much higher.

“On certain construction sites, standards have increased, especially when it comes to H&S practices but in most others, we are still 30 years behind,” he said.

He said that he wants Malta to move in the direction of having excellent facilities for workers in construction sites, such as changing rooms and showers. “It does not matter if the worker is Maltese or a foreigner, as we are all human beings,” Chetcuti added.

Media has reported about migrants living in unstable dwellings such as construction sites, and being forced to pay rent for it. The YMCA alleged that women are even resorting to sexual favours to landlords and employers to help pay their rent.

Asked if he has heard of such cases, Chetcuti said he had not, nor has he heard of anything from the members of the MCCM, managing construction sites. He said that that he has always fought for workers on site to have adequate facilities.

Chetcuti was asked whether eNGOs are right to say that there is “a massive environmental destruction in Malta.”

He said that the MCCM’s members’ obligations is to see to it that the project which was entrusted to them is done at the highest quality and standards.

Chetcuti said that in the preparations necessary prior to the works, the conditions and obligations imposed by the Planning Authority must be adhered to, and ensure that they are followed.

He continued that if a developer appoints a member of the MCCM, no one can accuse him of doing anything unethical in terms of the environment, as it is not under the manager’s remit, but that of the PA. What the manager does is make sure that the PA’s conditions are followed in the management of the project.

Asked if the prices of basic materials for the sector are still increasing, Chetcuti said that during the war in Ukraine, the cost of transport was higher, which then reflected in the prices of materials.

“Since then, however, the cost of transport has stabilised itself again, and the prices of certain materials have decreased. I have my doubts if they have decreased as they were before the war, however,” he said.

Chetcuti said, however, that the manufacturing of certain materials has remained pricey.

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