06 August 2003

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Addressing occupational health and safety in a changing legal scenario David Ghersci

Occupational health and safety standards in Malta have been elevated to a new level thanks to the new legislative framework passed some six months ago. But many companies in Malta are still unaware of their responsibilities and obligations in the sphere, which are many times regarded as little more than a nuisance by employers and workers alike. DAVID LINDSAY meets International Safety Training Centre Managing Director David Ghersci – a long-time veteran in the field who welcomes Malta’s new face of OHS with open arms.

Occupational health and safety in Malta is more often than not a touchy subject, with workers and employers alike in many cases seeing the new legislation passed some six months ago as a little more than a nuisance.
But any employer that has been affected by lost man hours due to otherwise avoidable accidents would immediately recognise the new regulation’s benefits, as would any worker that has suffered lost income or disability.
Malta’s occupational health and safety scenario has been subject to wide-ranging changes due to next May’s EU membership and with a new legislative framework for the field being passed some six months ago.
But long before the safety of Malta’s places of work hit the spotlight when the Occupational Health and Safety Bill began being debated in Parliament, one company - Hal Far’s International Safety Training Centre – has been active in the field with a great deal of international success.
In fact major corporations such as British Petroleum, ESSO, Mobil, HSBC, BASF, Canon, EXXON, FINA, and many others have sought ISTC’s services on a repeat basis.
Now more and more of Malta’s companies are making use of ISTC’s essential services, which encompass the full gamut of training including both hands-on and classroom instruction. This new-found awareness is thanks to the introduction of Malta’s new occupational health and safety regulations, which contemplate fines, enforceable by the Occupational Health and Safety Authority, of up to Lm5,000 for those companies found to be engaging in unsafe practices. The OHSA also has the power to demand access to a factory and if denied entry they have the possibility of closing the premises on the spot.
Figures of work hours lost due to occupational accidents have been repeated over and over again and many employers are all-too-familiar with the cost such accidents have on their operations, which can take the form of having a direct or indirect impact on the running of the company. In many cases toll is paid in both respects.
ISTC Managing Director David Ghersci welcomes the new legislation, explaining, "At last there is someone now who is looking out for and protecting workers’ health. But unfortunately workers and employers seem to be getting the wrong message because it is, in many instances, seen as a nuisance rather than a benefit.
"Some employers maybe still haven’t realised the amount of money, time and loss of production caused by injuries brought about by unsafe practices. Workers also see the new regulations as a nuisance because now they have to wear their hardhats, gloves and earplugs."
However, when speaking of occupational health and safety, one must not be misled into thinking it deals only with industrial concerns such as factories. Indeed, the scope of occupational health and safety encompasses all work-related aspects. Even all types of office work – such as the ergonomics of seating, brightness and tint of computer screens and stress-related factors - have to be considered in this respect.
"In many instances the same accidents keep happening over and over again and, unless you teach people and change the mentality, they will continue to happen."
Ghersci insists that the problem lies in the mindset of the people involved. He explains, "I shudder when I think of certain working practices taking place in Malta. Health and safety issues concern all parties involved in an enterprise - workers, their supervisors, the managers, the board of directors, the chairman, contractors and sub contractors. This is because the implications of one small incident can be wide ranging and damaging to a company."
ISTC has now launched a range of courses for companies looking to up their health and safety standards. The courses break down the new law into layman’s terms and explain the implications for managers and workers alike.
ISTC is also in the process of organising four completely free of charge seminars in which it is inviting companies from many of Malta’s various business sectors to spend a half-day, with a view to explaining what the new legislation is about.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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