Blaming Occupational Health and Safety Authority practices for construction site accidents suggested a misunderstanding of the situation on the ground, the OHSA said today.

The authority was replying to a National Audit Office report tabled yesterday which raised reservations about "the authority’s practice of not carrying out exhaustive inspection visits on construction sites".

"Although OHSAascertains that the responsibility of a Project Supervisor (PS) is duly assigned, there is no rigid and comprehensive system by which the competence of all active PSs is assessed," the NAO report stated.

But in a reply issued today, the OHSAargued that the NAO had misunderstood the "clear link of responsibility" between occupational health and safety and the construction industry.

The OHSA argued that the NAO report had seemingly ignored the fact that construction was, by its very nature, a high-risk sector. "A zero accident rate is unattainable," it wrote.

In its original report, the NAO had found that only heat strongly correlated with the occurrence of occupational accidents in the construction industry.

"NAO therefore notes that, apart from random variation, cultural disregard to Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and regulatory slack are likely to explain the remaining 68.5 per cent of the variability in accident rates," it said.

Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiPhoto: Darrin Zammit Lupi

In its reply, the OHSA disputed this conclusion, arguing that official figures did not take the construction industry's many undeclared workers into account and that the NAO had ignored the fact that a higher percentage of small project construction work was carried out between July and September.

The OHSA also took exception to the NAO's argument that fines were too low to discourage operators from implementing adequate workplace safety measures.

"Administrative fines...were never meant to replace judicial proceedings," the OHSA said.

It also had scathing words for the NAO's calls for the creation of an all-encompassing regulatory entity, dismissing the suggestion "a non-starting concept if one understood the dynamics of why accidents happen."

The suggestion also went against operational health and safety best practice of holding duty holders accountable for their actions and ensuring they played an active role in ensuring workplace health and safety, the OHSA said. 

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