Apivotal obligation under Legal Notice 88/18 is for construction site owners to appoint a health and safety project supervisor.

The supervisor must not only keep the Occupational Health and Safety Authority informed through a specified form before the commencement of any work on site, but also be steadfastly committed to unyielding site safety standards while construction is in progress.

In situations where such standards are not fully met, the onus falls squarely on the shoulders of this designated supervisor. Their responsibility extends to stopping ongoing operations until such time as complete adherence to these regulations is assured.

For construction site owners well-versed in appointing such supervisors, a familiar routine unfolds. They are accustomed to receiving comprehensive reports pinpointing potential hazards – such as the absence of guard rails, exposed wiring or protruding rods – and are subsequently called upon to swiftly rectify these concerns.

In the context of excavation works conducted adjacent to third-party property, a distinct set of obligations comes into play. The contractor spearheading such works is compelled to meticulously adhere to a method statement crafted by a perit.

This statement carries essential information, encompassing permissible machinery employment, the sequence of work and essential temporary measures.

Of paramount significance is the collaborative effort undertaken with the site technical officer (STO). This individual assumes the pivotal role of ensuring that the excavation works harmonise seamlessly with the architect’s directives, as laid out within the statement.

Should the contractor contemplate veering from the guidelines outlined by the perit in the statement, the STO is bound by the law (specifically LN136/19) to take decisive action by suspending the ongoing works.

In the same vein, when faced with demolition works adjoining a neighbouring property, the contractor spearheading these operations is similarly bound to adhere closely to a method statement prepared by a perit. Among its facets, this statement must meticulously delineate permissible machinery deployment, the stepwise progression of work, and the imperative temporary measures.

Likewise, an STO acts as the contractor’s vigilant overseer and shoulders the critical responsibility of ensuring that the demolition operations transpire seamlessly within the parameters of the architect’s directives, as laid out in the statement.

The authority’s inspectors lacked the qualifications to evaluate ‘construction standards’

In instances where the contractor contemplates straying from the stipulations pronounced by the perit within the statement, much akin to excavation scenarios, the STO is mandated by LN136/19 to promptly halt the ongoing works.

Now let me move on to a recent episode in the Sofia public inquiry. In the live blog of Times of Malta it was reported that the former CEO of the OHSA, Mark Gauci, said the authority’s inspectors lacked the qualifications to evaluate “construction standards”. According to the live blog, this remark seemed to unsettle the three members of the public inquiry panel.

Most notable was the articulate response of Auditor General Charles Deguara, a distinguished member of the inquiry board: “What competence do they possess?”

This probing question was followed by another, equally insightful: “If their expertise is lacking, what is their purpose for being there? Are they even aware of safety risks?” 

Much like Deguara, it’s only logical that this situation would give pause to any sensible individual: why have a health and safety authority, fortified by an enforcement inspectorate, when it struggles to discern pivotal flaws that carry the potential of triggering disastrous consequences?

Now imagine this scenario. As an architect, I unhesitatingly issue a directive to a contractor: construct a six-metre span roof using a mere six-inch slab of concrete, devoid of any reinforcement.

Alternatively, consider me directing a mason to strip away an external layer of masonry from a traditional, sturdy wall. This is driven by the desire of my client to carve out additional space within his home. Yet, in this pursuit, scant attention is paid to the intricate interconnections binding this layer to the broader structure.

Imagine that I propose the eradication of intervening stone arches that derive stability from the balancing force exerted by arches at either end, all without introducing any substitute bracing. Consider my prescription: a solitary seven-inch masonry wall, entrusted with shouldering the lateral load of a towering four-metre head of material.

Hold in your mind’s eye my acquiescence to the removal of vertical props that support a concrete roof slab, poured with meticulous precision, after a mere three days.

And now recall Gauci’s assertion, implying that health and safety enforcement officers are not inherently equipped to delve into the intricacies I’ve just outlined.

Gauci’s statements are not far-fetched in a world where architects  are never placed under the jurisdiction of enforcement authorities when it comes to their expert recommendations.

Deguara’s perspective may have a solid foundation, even if it leads to the suggestion of a system that brings my instructions to contractors under scrutiny.

As for the practical implementation of such a system, it should be for the three-member inquiry board to lay down the specifics.

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