01 MAY 2002
The media in general has been pin-pointed as the main instrument for promoting health and safety in the workplace. This was emphasised in a seminar on the Occupational Health & Safety Information Strategy, during which further information was divulged on the Twinning Agreement between the Maltese Government and the governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The Agreement, which is being financed by the European Commission, has set up 13 specific objectives which all go about setting standards in various ways and means.
The Health & Safety Authority is highly involved in the whole project, aiming principally at promoting a quality of life without creating a policing state wherein people abide by regulations solely for the purpose of avoiding fines.
During the seminar, Edwin Ward, creative director of Peak Advertising, Design & Marketing, explained how this company set about researching the present situation in Malta and Gozo. "During the 1990s reported cases of injuries at the workplace have lessened, going down from 7,000 to 5,100 cases." He voiced the hope that this positive reduction in figures will augur well for eventual educational campaigns that might be undertaken in the future, with the constant support of the media.
"We assessed the level of awareness of the general public by presenting a questionnaire to 448 individuals in a face to face interview. These individuals came from all sectors of the work force and the outcome was 413 valid replies." Mr Ward claimed that the reliability of the final documentation has a confidence level of 95% which is very accurate.
The questionnaires results helped to unearth parameters which had previously not been foreseen by the foreign team at study level.
"It was also immediately clear that people here generally have a negative attitude towards wearing personal protective equipment, believing that they have a "golden shield" around themselves. They believe that accidents could happen but that these would never happen to them. There does not seem to be an individual appreciation of danger."
Mr Ward also pointed out to the fact that several employers seem to consider safety measures as being only an additional expense and that as a consequence cost cutting is present also at tendering levels.
"Other factors which need addressing are the time factor, where procedures are apparently always undertaken in a rush. And insufficient information which does or does not reach new employees who need the most support."
Peter Rimmer, Director of Information at the UK Health & Safety Executive, explained how health and safety is an EU issue, and prior experience in projects within central European countries has given him the necessary background to address similar situations in Malta. "The main target is to raise the quality of life and give workers the possibility of returning home from work all in one piece. We aim at reducing risks, protecting people and ascertaining that employees are not exposed to risks."
Mr Rimmer gave some background information on the manner in which a similar information and awareness strategy was handled in the UK where, as in Malta, the construction industry produces the most injuries to workers. "The highest accident group in the UK is the 18-24 year-old male worker who is coming into employment, generally quicker at changing jobs and who has a lot going on in his life to pay too much attention to the safety factor."