Updated 6.38pm with engineer's comments

Scaffolding at the former Barracuda restaurant which came close to toppling onto a busy road was never safe to work on as it was not secured properly to the building's façade, investigations have revealed.

On Monday afternoon, Main Street in St Julian’s was temporarily closed after the scaffolding at the old Barracuda/Piccolo Padre building appeared to be leaning towards the road and pedestrians. 

Police officers cordoned off the area until the steel structure was secured. No workers were on the scaffolding at the time of the incident and no one was harmed in the incident. 

Scaffolding certified last week

Developer and site owner Carlo Stivala said a warranted engineer hired by the company had certified the scaffolding just last week. 

“The engineer inspected the scaffolding on Thursday and certified it as safe for work," Stivala told Times of Malta on Tuesday, moments after concluding a meeting about the incident. 

"I received the report on my desk on Friday afternoon- everything was done properly and at the time was fine,” he said. 

Times of Malta has seen a copy of the Scaffolding Inspection Certificate, which is signed by engineer Jordan Cutajar. The certificate states that the scaffolding in question "has been inspected in accordance with the OHSA Regulations"  and is "informed by relevant technical standards and is suitable for its intended purpose."

The certificate is dated April 28, 2022. 

Stivala blames engineer

But Stivala made it clear that he was displeased with the engineer's work. 

"It is clear that yesterday's accident happened because a large section of the scaffolding, the part which was leaning forward, was not secured properly to the building," Stivala said.

“The engineer approved the certificate without seeing the scaffolding properly. I was not present during the inspection that took place on Thursday 28, but after investigating the section we can say it was not placed properly at all.”

Stivala said he is in discussion with his lawyer to see whether to take legal action against the engineer. He has since hired another engineer. 

"Cutajar was meant to be present during today's meeting but he did not turn up whatsoever. Instead, the meeting was held between me, the new engineer, and another site worker," Stivala said.

For the time being, the scaffolding structure will remain closed, with a new engineer undertaking a thorough inspection to decide whether the existing scaffolding can be fixed or will need to be reinstalled from scratch. 

Until the engineer has issued a new certificate, no workers will be allowed to use the scaffolding, Stivala said.

Engineer: Mesh was changed without my approval

Cutajar initially declined to comment when contacted, but later told Times of Malta that a mesh that covered the scaffolding had been changed without him being informed. 

"When I inspected the scaffolding it was covered with a thin green mesh that allows air to flow through it," he said. "But that seems to have been changed to a thicker brown one, without my knowledge."

Photos of the scaffolding taken last week and on Monday appear to confirm that the mesh covering the scaffolding had been changed from a green to a light brown one. 

 

The scaffolding last week (left) versus on Monday (right). The mesh appears to have been changed - something the engineer involved says should not have happened.The scaffolding last week (left) versus on Monday (right). The mesh appears to have been changed - something the engineer involved says should not have happened.

Cutajar said that the thicker mesh restricted airflow and most likely added to pressure on the structure. 

"If scaffolding is touched, the engineer involved must be informed beforehand. That did not happen," he said, adding that it appeared the new engineer had given instructions for the brown mesh to be removed. 

St Julian's Mayor Albert Buttigieg said the council had warned the developer of the danger posed to the scaffolding by the use of heavy material to cover it and hoarding attached to it, both of which were catching the wind, which blows from two directions there, and pulling the structure forward. 

Stivala said no person or entity ever warned him that the scaffolding was dangerous.

Health and safety authority calls for safer workplaces

Following the incident, the Occupational Health and Safety Authority called for stakeholders to ensure that all workspaces are safe for workers. 

“OHSA appeals to all stakeholders to work hand in hand in a concrete way to ensure that all workplaces are safe for all,” the authority said. 

The authority appealed to the public to report any “hazardous work situations” to the OHSA immediately, “so that hazards are controlled, and workers and third parties do not remain in danger or at risk to life.”

OHSA can be contacted on 21247677 (during work hours) or on 99496786 (after working hours), by email: ohsa@gov.mt or through its Facebook page.

Controversial works from the start

In January Times of Malta reported how the St Julian's council had raised the alarm that works on the landmark restaurant started over the New Year weekend despite the project's planning application being suspended. Workers were seen stripping the building of its wooden Maltese balconies.

The Planning Authority subsequently stopped the illegal works. 

The Planning Commission then ordered the forfeiture of a €2,300 bank guarantee covering the works and fined the developer €50 a day.

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