Updated | Media focus on Occupational Health and Safety Authority is misguided, regulator says

Following the Libyan construction worker's tragic end in Sliema yesterday, the Occupational Health and Safety Authority insisted that shifting the focus on it diverted attention from those responsible

The Libyan construction worker who held on a rope for dear life for a minute and a half before falling to his death in Sliema
The Libyan construction worker who held on a rope for dear life for a minute and a half before falling to his death in Sliema

Following the death of the Libyan construction worker who fell seven storeys high from a Sliema apartment he was working on, MaltaToday reached out to the Occupational Health and Safety Authority that said anyone pointing fingers at it was misguided.

The man reportedly died on the spot yesterday after he clung to a rope for a minute and a half before falling to his death.

He dangled on the rope and tried to scale the building after the wooden plank he was standing on gave way.

The ordeal was recorded and viewed by many on social media before it was reported on local newspapers. The event caused a controversy.

CEO of OHSA, Mark Gauci, said that since 2002, the date of inception of OHSA, fatalities had significantly decreased from an average of 12 per year to an average of four.

"There is the belief that the construction industry is the only dangerous sector in the country. The truth is that there are other sectors, including the manufacturing industry and the chemical industry that are likewise as dangerous," Gauci said. "The OHSA has to balance its work in all these sectors."

Gauci claimed that with the construction sector, the main responsibility lies with dutyholders, who are usually the clients themselves, the contractors. 

"All the media is looking at us," Gauci said, "but the law ensures that the client is the one who has the legal obligation to ensure occupational health and safety."

Gauci explained how due to the construction explosion causing pressure on the labour supply, a demand for foreign labour has arisen. The problems here include a language barrier and ignorance of the legal obligations. "Due to a lack of labour supply and the huge demand for construction developments, shortcuts are taken," Gauci said.

The OHSA also claimed that with regards to maintenance of construction, one has to sometimes rely on the benevolence of neighbours, which is not always forthcoming. For this reason, the installation of scaffolding may not be straightforward, prevented from being set up by the people next door. 

The OHSA had suggested the introduction of a skill card that would guarantee competence and skill which would include the adherence to health and safety standards. However, the skill card is so far a voluntary application. The plan, according to OHSA, is to make the holding of a skill card a prerequisite to working within the construction industry.

"Even with self-employed construction workers," Gauci said, "it's their responsibility when it comes to whom they will provide work on a construction site. They are the ones who should make sure that health and safety standards are followed."

Developers react

The Malta Developers Association also released a statement calling for basic standards in the industry to be adhered to.

"The MDA wants to publicly express its sorrow about yet another death of a worker in the construction industry," the association said. It claimed that it did not want to discuss the merits of this particular incident but the MDA pointed out that it was organising courses on health and safety procedures on a voluntary basis.

"For quite some time, the MDA has been lobbying the authorities to establish a system of registration for all qualified workers in the construction industry," the MDA said.

Such a registry, it said, would not only reflect the aptitude and skill of the worker concerned but it would also establish a health and safety course as a prerequisite to being on the list. The MDA indicated that this is of special importance to self-employed persons who do not work within the custody of a contractor.

"Moreover, legal obligations and responsibilities on hiring qualified persons would apply to anyone carrying out work, irrespective of whether one is a developer, a contractor or a private citizen," the association said. 

The White Paper establishing a new construction authority had already made mention of these measures, with Transport Minister Ian Borg even tipping his hat at MDA's proposals.

The death of the 26-year old Libyan worker is the subject of a magisterial inquiry being led by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale.

A separate inquiry is being led by the Occupational Health and Safety Authority.