The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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TMIS Editorial: Health and safety at work

Wednesday, 10 July 2024, 11:17 Last update: about 7 days ago

One area which needs improving in Malta is health and safety at the workplace.

This is evident by the number of accidents that occurred at workplaces over the years, primarily in high-risk sectors such as construction. There have been improvements made through regulations recently, but more is still needed. The deaths of Jean Paul Sofia and Miriam Pace, as well as others, were shocks to the country, and government and the construction sector must  work to ensure that such tragedies do not occur again.

The government must also ensure that the number of accidents on construction sites are reduced, and that incidents like construction site collapses do not occur.

There was news this week that a second reading of the new Health and Safety at Work bill commenced. The government said that through the bill, it is proposing increases to administrative and criminal fines for those who are found in breach of safety regulations on the workplace. It was said that there would also be an increase to the number of enforcement officials within the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA).

Among other things, Prime Minister Robert Abela told Parliament that the bill provides more effective enforcement and also mentioned increasing the number of  OHSA officials from 30 currently, to 70 officials by the end of the year, to reach to 80 officials by end of 2025. Abela also said that fines and penalties related to rule violations will be strengthened. The first offense will carry a minimum fine of €1,500, and a maximum of €50,000. In serious cases, there is also a maximum of two years imprisonment.

The bill also introduces the Health and Safety Responsible Officer (HSRO), the Prime Minister said, which is different, and additional, to the health and safety officer. This person will take on a managerial role, and operate with certain sectors with higher risks.

However Nationalist Party MP Stanley Zammit, during the Parliamentary debate, said that the bill has a number of compromises which will not help a change in culture. “The draft is weak in treating health and safety in the workplace proactively and fails to protect employees at work,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bernard Grech highlighted, in Parliament, things that could have been done better and that need further clarifications. Grech urged for the bill to be improved.

If the Opposition believes the bill isn’t good enough, then government should meet them round the table. Both sides should talk and where improvements to the bill are needed, then improvements must be made. Parliament must ensure that strong legislation in this regard is enacted.

One must also stress that, while creating laws to improve regulations is good, enforcement of those regulations is the only way to ensure they work. As such, better enforcement when it comes to health and safety in high-risk jobs is required and must be a priority in the years to come.

Far too many people have been injured or worse, lost their lives in accidents or incidents that could have been prevented. Enough is enough. Stronger regulation should have been enacted years ago.

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