While the construction industry is passing through a boom phase, it is essential that health and safety regulations on site are kept updated to minimise risk. The death of a single person on a building site because of inadequate observance of health and safety regulations is a death too many.
The Occupational Health and Safety Authority has just updated the2004 regulations on workplace health and safety requirements when construction work is in progress. It is a sobering reality that despite the regulations in place there are still occasional fatalities on construction sites, not to mention the utter disregard to safety that one often notices, especially where evident precarious labour is involved.
OHSA head Mark Gauci stated the obvious when he remarked that despite the importance of the construction industry to the economy, there are issues of safety that require addressing. Addressing these issues does not necessarily mean adding new layers of regulation but, rather, defining who is accountable for ensuring the rules are observed at all times.
It is not just big firms that are engaged in property development. Some homeowners decide to develop their properties to make them more suitable for modern living. Health and safety regulators define these developers as domestic clients. A domestic client is anyone who has construction work carried out for them that is not done in connection with a business, usually work done on their own home or the home of a family member.
The updated regulations have done away with the need for the end domestic client to carry out a risk assessment, putting the responsibility instead on the contractor. Many domestic clients will have little or no skills, knowledge or experience in managing a construction project. Thus, the change makes sense, even if domestic clients still have the critical role of making sure the people they contract to do the work are capable of doing it in a way that avoids harm to anyone.
Choosing the cheapest quote for domestic construction may not always be the safest option.
The perception of many is that not all contractors are committed to abiding by regulations. As long as they can get away with cutting corners to save money or to speed up work, some will do so.
The occupational health and safety watchdog will always have the ultimate responsibility of ensuring that enforcement of regulations is consistent throughout the construction industry even when this involves small domestic projects. For instance, even to the untrained eye, some scaffolding equipment used on construction sites appears to be rusty, damaged and not fit for purpose. Contractors must be made aware that they must not endanger the life of workers and road users by using such equipment and defaulters must pay… handsomely.
The announced changes rightly pass on the responsibility to contractors for ensuring that construction sites for small projects are safe at all times. One crucial point that needs to be addressed relates to the responsibility of coordinating health and safety measures when there is more than one contractor involved in a small project. Domestic clients will do well to ensure their architect would coordinate the work of different contractors.
The regulator needs to keep all its clients updated on their health and safety responsibilities. For this purpose, a revamped website may be overdue.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial