23 June 2004

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OHSA calls for an end to ‘rhetorical lipservice and vested interests’

The Occupational Health and Safety Authority yesterday called for an end to what it calls rhetorical lip-service and vested interests’ expressed through various articles and letters written in the media and comments made to the media regarding the state of occupational health and safety in Malta.
In a strongly worded statement released yesterday, the OHSA took exception to the fact that the state of Malta’s OHS is being portrayed as primitive and mediocre and that Malta is being depicted as the most fertile terrain for accidents and fatalities at the place of work. This, the OHSA explains, is fortunately this is a far-cry from reality.
The OHSA cites the National Office of Statistics publication ‘Benchmarking Malta in Europe, which ’ has proved that the number of workplace fatalities relative to the number of workers in Malta is very low when compared to the 25 EU member states. Indeed Malta comes third from the lowest end, preceded slightly by Luxembourg and Ireland. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, amongst others, where a high level of worker protection is lauded, even by certain contributors to the media, lag far behind Malta.
Furthermore, the OHSA emphasises that a look at the number of occupational accidents throughout the years shows a significant and marked downward trend in the number of annual accidents. Therefore, these are decreasing and NOT on the increase. There might be this perception because there is more media awareness and these are now being covered and reported. This in itself is very commendable, but some people are getting the wrong impression that the accidents and not awareness is increasing.
Another report, this time issued by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions also proved that Malta fares very well in the area of occupational health and safety when compared to the other EU member states. This was also confirmed by the Director of the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work during his visit to Malta two weeks ago.
The Occupational Health and Safety Authority has also passed, with flying colours, a peer review exercise carried out by representatives from the European Union’s Committee of Senior Labour Inspectors (SLIC) that analysed the inspection, administrative and legal systems in the area of occupational health and safety in Malta. The major problem identified was that related to effective social partner participation, where a wider scope for social partnership through active participation between employers and trade unions in the area of OHS was deemed fundamental and still lacking.
Addressing the issue OHSA Chief Executive Officer Dr Mark Gauci explains, “These are only a few examples that have been already highlighted on previous occasions and the ensuing logical question is thus why certain people still insist on regurgitating the same erroneous statements. One would like to think that it is a misunderstanding yet, it is happening too often to be passed by lightly. This is an attempt to whip citizens up into a crisis mentality, an action that is misleading and highly deplorable.”
“Moreover, the fundamental problem is not just with the irresponsibility of these individuals and entities. The source of the quandary is the vested interests of these individuals who use OHS as a front to gain mileage in their personal, professional or commercial quests. Recurrent airy-fairy contributions in the media without a positive and pro-active approach do no service to society and cause more harm than good.
“The national OHS policy to date has laid particular emphasis on promotion, awareness-raising, education and dissemination of information. Following Malta’s accession to the EU, the OHSA has intensified its role as an enforcement entity although retaining its educational role on a smaller scale. In fact, the number of prosecutions has increased dramatically in the last months. It is interesting to note that criticism in the media has increased significantly following this shift in OHSA’s operations, raising serious doubts on the real motive behind this criticism.
“Workplace inspections are on the increase yet the OHS officers cannot be everywhere at the same time. There has to be authentic concerted action on the part of all stakeholders. It is futile to have people looking for their five minutes of fame and sensationalism penning articles and letters in newspapers without either checking their facts first or else adopting an attitude of complacency.
“It is sad that many entities who air their ‘utmost concern’ in the media back-track once they are approached by the Authority to make joint initiatives and or are taken to task. An improvement in our system requires a genuine interest in OHS from various people.”
The OHSA insists that accidents could be avoided and lives could be spared if OHS is given the importance it merits from everyone and action is taken immediately bad practice is noted. The Authority should also be informed without delay when advice or complaints about an imminent danger are not heeded.

St Paul’s Bay building collapse
The OHSA exemplifies that it has just been informed, anonymously, that an architect who happened to be in the locality of the building which collapsed in St Paul’s Bay some weeks ago told the people accompanying him that the said building looked very dangerous and in imminent danger of falling down. “He in fact advised them to leave the place immediately. This happened less than 90 minutes prior to the actual collapse of the building. If this architect had informed the responsible authorities, maybe this tragic accident would have been avoided. The Authority is not aware of the identity of this architect. Nevertheless, this incident highlights the general feeling of apathy and lack of responsibility for others.”
“It is ample time that people take a real and genuine interest in OHS and move away from rhetorical lip-service to specific action – for the benefit of society and the nation at large,” Dr Gauci concluded.

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