23 OCTOBER 2002

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Call for better safety in our buildings

While speaking during a Seminar on "Protection 2002" organised by the Alberta Fire Fighting and Security Equipment, Minister for Resources and Infrastructure Francis Zammit Dimech said that space restrictions in built up areas are creating pressures for higher and more compact complex buildings with the consequence of higher fire risks.

This, coupled with pressures from foreign investors and tour operators to upgrade our buildings in accordance with international standards, and the coming into force of legislation such as the "Minimum Health and Safety Requirements 2000" increased awareness of the need for better controls connected with fire safety.

Francis Zammit Dimech said that the building industry was again gathering momentum. Figures released by the National Statistics Office show that during the first six months of this year the Construction and Quarrying Industry contributed Lm23.2 million to our Gross Domestic Product. This was the highest sectoral growth. The value added of this industry amounted to Lm11.9 million, an increase of 18.2 per cent over the same period last year. At the same time the employment income increased by 22.4 per cent to Lm7.8 million whilst profits improved by 10.8 per cent to Lm4.1 million. Employment in this sector increased by 1000 (992) since the end of 1998 and last May stood at 6,827. At a time when the building sector is passing through such a healthy period, it is important that more attention is given to safety in the building construction techniques and designs.

The Minister for Resources and Infrastructure said that as Minister responsible for the Building Industry Consultative Council, for the Building Construction Industry Department and for a number of government departments related to building projects, he was particularly aware of the risks that exist within the construction industry. He said that even though the number of incidents at the place of work during the past 10 years went down form 6,974 in 1992 to 5,061 last year, that is from 5.5 per cent of the gainfully occupied in 1992 to 3.7 per cent last year, he still felt that the level of accidents in the construction industry, when compared to other industries was unacceptably high.

Francis Zammit Dimech said that even though we rarely witness serious injuries, or worst still fatalities, fires do occur in our buildings. Minister Francis Zammit Dimech said that the introduction of fire safety regulations alone will not resolve all our problems. Everyone has to work hard to change the mentality and cultural background related to fire safety. He said that educational upgrading and training to workers and professionals must be provided. In this regard he felt that the Building Control Office within the Building Construction Industry Department will adapt itself to act as an advisor and not just a policing agency. He said that for this reason the Ministry for Resources and Infrastructure will continue to invest in professional development of the present and future staff of this section.

Francis Zammit Dimech said that thanks to the financial backing of the Commonwealth Secretariat for Technical Assistance the Ministry for Resources and Infrastructure was able to engage the services of Tenos Fire Safety Engineering Consultants who through the sterling work of Dr Adrian Hay drafted a Technical Guidance Document. The Minister for Resources and Infrastructure said that this technical guidance document has been generally based on the relevant British and Irish building regulations. He said that the decision to follow this model of regulations was largely dependent on the traditional educational background of most of our architects and engineers and their familiarity with British codes of practice. He said that however, any directions or guidance, took into account local conditions and also conformity with European Union requirements.

Minister Francis Zammit Dimech said that as a first step towards bridging the significant gap between existing and required fire safety design knowledge and practices, the Guidance Document has been structured in a way as to provide easy to follow guidance to common building types rather than to accommodate unusual designs. Francis Zammit Dimech said that by presenting straightforward guidance it is hoped that this document will assist an ever increasing number of architects, design engineers and contractors to endorse these fundamental principles and thus pave the way for a smooth transition from present practices to the new requirements of the regulations.

The Minister for Resources and Infrastructure said that he greatly appreciated the work which Alberta has been doing for the past years at fostering such fire safety awareness and also at providing on hand facilities such as this full day safety seminar. This brings us in contact with present day advances in this very important subject which can contribute to better safety in our buildings.

 



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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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