The average court fine for a construction work fatality between 2010 and 2022 was just €7,030, a new report has found.

A total of 49 construction workers died on-site during that period, but only five of those cases have resulted in court decisions. Fines in those five cases ranged from €11,650 to just €1,000. 

Not a single architect or civil engineer has had their warrant suspended or revoked over the past 23 years in relation to construction deaths.

And while the number of construction notification forms submitted to the Occupational Health and Safety Authority has increased tenfold since 2011, the number of OHSA officers tasked with assessing those forms and inspecting workplaces has remained more or less the same and currently stands at just 13.

The findings emerge from a report published by the Daphne Caruana Caruana Galizia Foundation for the Public Interest Litigation Network, a network of lawyers who offer held to victims of human rights violations or other public interest cases.

Titled ‘Victims of Malta’s Construction Boom’, the research was prompted by a spate of construction deaths in 2022 which showed “a clear trend of lack of accountability”, the report notes.

It highlights failings in local systems of record-keeping, a slow justice system that dishes out weak penalties and insufficient human resources to cope with Malta’s construction sector growth as key problems that need to be addressed.

More permits, more deaths

Report writers noted a clear correlation between Malta’s building boom, wall collapses and construction fatalities: as planning permit approvals spiked, so did construction site tragedies. 

While 10 construction workers died in the four years between 2010 and 2013 and a further 10 died between 2014 and 2017, there were 29 such deaths between 2018 and 2022, the report found.

Falls from height were, by far, the most likely cause of death: of the 49 deaths recorded between 2010 and 2022, 25 occurred due to such falls.

No statistics

The report highlights authorities’ shortcomings when documenting workplace injuries: the OHSA only started compiling data into injuries in 2017 and does not categorise the data by sector, making it impossible to quantify how many injuries the construction sector is responsible for.  

The authority was also unable to provide information about the number of construction site inspections it carries out each year, or provide a breakdown of the number of fines it issued every year per sector.

The police were even less helpful, telling report writers that they have no electronic record of the number of people prosecuted for deaths or injuries caused at construction sites, with that information kept in individual manual files held by different prosecuting officers.

Nor were the police able to provide report writers with details of where construction site fatalities happened, the names of people prosecuted in connection with them or PA numbers of the construction sites where they occurred.

“This means that, apart from pieces of information available to the public through sporadic media reports, there is no information given to the public about who is responsible for serious injuries and fatalities on construction sites, and what action is taken against them. This makes it impossible for the public to hold to account those responsible for the shortcomings that have proven to be fatal time and time again,” the report noted.

The only data concerning construction site injuries available is kept by the National Statistics Office, which compiles figures from claims made for injury benefits. However, given that many construction workers are undocumented, these figures are unlikely to portray a full picture of construction site injuries. 

Struggling justice

Malta’s justice system is also falling short, research carries out by report writers indicates.

Just five out of 49 cases concerning construction site fatalities have been concluded by the courts, with a further 10 closed because the court determined nobody could be prosecuted. The remaining 34 cases (69%) remain pending, with the number of unresolved cases accumulating year-on-year.

Not a single case concerning a construction site fatality has resulted in a court decision since 2015. In the five cases where a decision was reached, penalties were paltry.

The highest fine issued was an €11,650 one in a 2013 court decision, while the lowest was in a case in which the court ordered a €1,000 fine and suspended jail sentence for causing a construction site death. The average fine was of €7,030. 

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