The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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Does the building construction industry care?

Carmel Cacopardo Sunday, 11 February 2024, 09:03 Last update: about 24 days ago

We had another serious accident in the building construction industry this week at Gżira. The retained  façade of a number of buildings currently in the process of being redeveloped into a hotel, collapsed into the street: Belvedere Street in Gżira.

These accidents don't just happen. They are inevitably the result of someone's error, big or small.

Without waiting for the building construction industry reform, currently in hand, there are already enough rules and institutions in place, which, had they functioned properly, could possibly have avoided this accident altogether.

Fortunately, no one was physically injured: no one however has any merit in this. It is just pure luck that a pedestrian in Belvedere Street Gżira, just avoided being hit by the flying stonework, as was reported in some sections of the media.

The building operations in hand were subject to two development permits: PA 01866/20 and PA 08659/21. The site has an area of 384 square metres.

The media has informed us as to the name of the architect and the developer entrusted with this project. There are however other actors who should be spotlighted. The documentation available on the Planning Authority website indicates the names of a site technical officer, a project supervisor as well as a site manager who were appointed in line with the requirements of legislation currently in force. This is the supervisory team which was ultimately responsible for managing the site at Belvedere Street in Gżira. They had to ensure that the method statement drawn up by the architect responsible for the project was followed.

It would thus be interesting to know how the works carried out on this site at Gżira were actually supervised. The Magisterial inquiry will possibly shed some light on the matter.

Perusal of the demolition method statements in the files of the two development permits indicate the various planned precautions to avoid accidents. The crux of the whole issue is now to establish whether the planned precautions were sufficient and equally important, if they were followed. The actual supervision carried out on site is crucial.

The Magisterial inquiry will undoubtedly examine all this to understand the site dynamics and possibly arrive at a clear conclusion as to what has exactly happened.

Too many accidents are taking place on building construction sites. At times sections of the building construction industry are conveying the message that the industry does not really care. This attitude is grossly unfair as many do in fact care. It is the minority which at times act haphazardly and cause accidents.

The present situation is, in my humble opinion, the inevitable result of having successive governments handling the building construction industry with kids' gloves. 

The problem is also one of attitude right through the industry and the institutions which regulate and operate it. Does the building industry care?

The deaths of Miriam Pace (Santa Venera: March 2020) and Jean Paul Sofia (Kordin: December 2022) were momentarily shocking. Unfortunately however, they were quickly forgotten, just as the earlier death of the 27-year-old Latvian construction worker Maksims Artamonovs (Mellieħa: March 2012) was forgotten too. Nothing seems to have changed in the operational attitudes of sections of the building construction industry as a result of these deaths or other cases of serious injury.

Do you remember the dumping on a pavement of a migrant worker injured on a building construction site in Mellieħa in 2021? Apparently, most have forgotten all about this incident too!

Do we care? A majority of spineless specimens of Members of Parliament was even coerced into declaring that there was no need for a public inquiry into the building construction industry, even though Prime Minister Robert Abela reversed this decision unceremoniously shortly afterwards when faced with a massive public protest. This resistance is indicative that deep down the state and its institutions are downright insensitive to the human suffering caused by the building construction industry.

Only time will tell whether there will be anything beyond the usual cosmetic changes. How many more lives must be sacrificed on the altar of building construction greed? At the end of the day, the building industry only cares about its turnover.

Carmel Cacopardo is a former Chairperson of ADPD

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