Migrant workers are at a higher risk of workplace accidents and fatalities, according to safety watchdog – the Occupational Health and Safety Authority.

In its annual report, the OHSA says migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable group in Maltese society when it comes to work safety.

Just last week, a 47-year-old Turkish worker plunged down an 18-metre hold on a construction site in Rabat.

The safety watchdog said a brief analysis of local data shows that just under a third of all workplace fatalities involve foreign workers.

Temporary employment conditions, abuse and the underground economy further disadvantage migrant workers, according to the report.

“A high number of migrant workers also end up doing jobs and using machinery that they are not familiar with, and they shy away from raising unsafe issues at their workplace for fear of losing their jobs or even being deported”.

The OHSA pinpoints all these factors, as well as language and cultural barriers, as contributing to making migrants a “vulnerable group of workers”, putting them at a higher risk of workplace accidents and fatalities.

In a bid to mitigate these risk factors, the OHSA says it has issued a guidance document to raise awareness about occupational safety and workers’ rights.

This document was circulated widely among migrant and human rights organisations in Malta, and translated into various languages, the OHSA said.

In August 2019, Times of Malta had reported that of the eight fatal work-related accidents recorded in the last 20 months, six were foreigners working in the construction industry.

468 injury notifications in 2021

The safety watchdog said it had carried out a “record” number of 4,159 workplace visits during 2021.

A total of 780 administrative fines amounting to €289,750 were issued by the watchdog that same year for safety infringements.

In all, 468 injury notifications from employers were received by the OHSA during 2021, markedly less than during the previous year.

The OHSA put the drop in notifications down to the fact that a lot of work was being carried out remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the number of reported injuries and accidents on construction sites has remained consistent over the years, the OHSA acknowledges the figures may not provide a true picture of the situation.

'Fact: not all construction workers officially registered'

This is due to the “well-known fact” that not all construction workers are officially registered with JobsPlus.

The authority noted the high proportion of foreign workers “losing their lives at work”, a large percentage of whom would not be registered as being employed or self-employed with the relevant authorities.

The OHSA also zeroes in on some of the difficulties encountered when the police prosecute health and safety cases.

Given the expedited nature of the cases, where evidence has to be presented in one sitting, the OHSA says if the prosecution fails to bring the “best primary evidence” during that sitting, the person accused will be acquitted.

The OHSA says in cases where a witness is not notified of the hearing by the police “for a number of reasons”, it leads to the acquittal of the accused person, unless it can be proven that the witness was summoned but failed to appear.

Despite the drive by the courts and the relevant authorities to issue and serve citations, the OHSA said several cases are deferred when citations remain undelivered.

A substantial number of these are foreigners who remain untraced by the police.

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