The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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TMIS Editorial: Construction industry again in the spotlight

Sunday, 11 February 2024, 10:00 Last update: about 22 days ago

The incident in Gzira on Tuesday, where scaffolding and the façade of a building, which was under construction, gave way and collapsed, placing lives at risk, has again brought about concerns about safety in the construction sector to the fore.

Thankfully, nobody was injured, but this could easily have been another tragic day. Had this happened some time later or earlier, someone could have been seriously injured, or worse. Reports read that one witness was just 10 metres away when the façade came crashing down.

Jean Paul Sofia's mother, Isabelle Bonnici, hit out at the authorities on Tuesday in the wake of the collapse in Gżira, and called on the minister responsible for the sector to provide information. "What is happening? What will happen?" she asked.

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said later in Parliament that the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), as well as the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA), have issued stop orders for works on the site, and he also confirmed that the BCA and the OHSA are both conducting their own research and investigations. These investigations must uncover what caused the collapse, and if there was any negligence or if standards or regulations weren't followed, then action must be taken.

Again while nobody was injured, the situation could easily have been different. One now has to wait for the conclusions.

The sector has been in the spotlight due to incidents like this too many times in the past. In recent years, there were two in particular that had shaken the country and saw major calls for reforms. The first was the death of Miriam Pace, who tragically died when her home collapsed as works took place next door in Santa Venera. The second and more recent incident was the death of Jean Paul Sofia, who died when a construction site at Corradino collapsed. But there have been other incidents that also highlighted the need for reforms. There were partial building collapses in Pieta and Mellieha a few years ago for instance, and there have been so many incidents of workers getting injured or dying while working on sites in the past that it is impossible to count.

With regard to the sector as a whole, one cannot stress enough the importance of safety. Construction is a dangerous job, yes, but those working in the industry must ensure that all precautions are taken to protect construction workers, neighbours and even passers-by. There are changes being made to the sector in terms of regulations, but one has to ask, has enough been done? It is easy to draft appropriate laws and regulations but it is enforcement that will decide whether or not they will be effective.

The latest regulation changes included the introduction of a licensing regime for building contractors. It was a good step, but will only be as strong as the enforcement to back it up. The authorities were given the power to suspend or even withdraw licenses for regulatory breaches, a power which they absolutely need. As of November last year, contractors need to await the issuance of a provisional licence before being able to operate. These provisional licences are granted for the initial year. However, come 1 January 2025, all contractors must be fully licensed in accordance with legislation.

There is a lot of construction activity around the island. There are many construction sites, large and small projects taking place simultaneously. This means that the authorities that regulate and deal with this sector have many projects to oversee, and they absolutely must have all the resources they need to keep on top of things. There were concerns regarding, for instance, the resources at the OHSA, then last September the government said it planned to strengthen it, and also said that its resources would be increased. As for the BCA, last Tuesday Minister Attard said that investment will continue, especially towards human resources, to continue with its preventative approach. Both these pledges must be upheld and both authorities need to be as strong as possible.

Ensuring that regulations and health and safety standards are followed means fewer safety risks. The authorities have to be strict when it comes to ensuring that regulations are followed as, if they are not, it will only give those in the sector, who think they can get away with ignoring the rules, the upper hand. Risks to life and limb do not allow for compromise and the authorities are equally responsible to enforce the law. There are many in the industry who follow the rules, but there are also cowboys, and they need to be reined in.

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