We are told to be good citizens and report any infringements we see to the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA). But the result of doing that can be so daunting to the good citizen as to make such an activity a self-harming exercise.

I shall give a brief overview of what happened to me and will leave the reader to judge whether what is being demanded of us by the OHSA is even remotely reasonable.

I have lived through three major building sites around my flat. I am asthmatic and suffer massively from headaches. The works led to incredible noise, dust, shaking foundations, persistent dirt, street blockage, inconvenience and more.

But what actually affected me much more than anything else was the total disrespect for health and safety shown by the workers at the building sites.

They straddled planks balancing precariously on sacks of cement, four or five floors up. They inhaled dust from the stone cutting and smoothing machines that surely must have led to permanent calcification of their lungs. They wore no helmets, no harnesses, no protective shoes. They often wore no clothes at all, except for skimpy shorts that covered essentials, but did little else.

I was expecting a fatal accident to happen at any moment. I took photos and sent them off to the OHSA, who duly acknowledged receipt of my mail and actually sent inspectors.

Work would stop for a day after that, and the following day the workers had helmets and harnesses. And the day following that, the harnesses would still be on, but they’d have dangling ropes, unconnected and as useless as a damp squib. And then the helmets would disappear as well. So on and so forth. Until my hackles went up so high, I had to contact the OHSA again.

This happened a few times while the huge block was being erected. And people moved in and the workers disappeared. None died, as far as I know, but it was not from lack of their trying.

And then, at the end of 2018, I got three separate police summons, all for the same morning in late January 2019, that I was called as witness against the contractors. It was exam time at University.

I had to cancel meetings that had been planned from weeks before, but grumblingly thought it was my duty to see this through.

A citizen should stand up in the face of the rampant illegalities that are around us. Even more if those illegalities can cost lives through the neglect, or just plain stinginess, of contractors.

I was in court at 9am and stayed there, with nobody talking to me, for two hours, until I asked someone and was told that that case had been adjourned an hour before. Next session would be slam-bang in the last week of semester, when it would be impossible to postpone classes. I fumed out.

Most definitely, next time I’ll know better- Gorg Mallia

I wrote to the OHSA and told them off. Not their fault, I was told, but of the court system being what it is.

But I still had to go when called, or else I’d be fined for contempt.

I was served a summons, again for 9am, this time at the end of May. I was on time, of course. At one point the cases I was there for were called. I was not. And two hours later, when I asked about it, was told the cases had been adjourned again.

I had to collect the next summons myself from the police station as I had been abroad, but it was for a session right in the middle of a trip I had already paid for and the police were informed of this.

On Wednesday of last week, I had just got home from hospital, where I had my COVID-19 booster jab, when two policemen came to my flat saying they had orders to accompany me to court the following morning because I had not shown up for a session on August 26. When I told them I had not been summoned to do so, they said this was out of their control and that I had to go.

So, I cancelled classes and meetings. Feverish and with all the known side-effects of a COVID jab in place, I went to court the following morning, and after I waited for an hour, approached the duty sergeant and was told I would need to go back to court in February of next year for when the case I was to witness for was adjourned.

I will have to. I will probably need to cancel 100 student-strong lectures to do so, but the court does not care. Nor do I any more.

The next time I see someone about to die as they do a sprightly dance in mid-air on planks hanging from threads, I’ll turn my head away and not let the overwhelming need to save them make me have to contend with a court system that has no respect for citizens doing their duty.

Most definitely, next time I’ll know better! As should anybody else who has any sense at all.

Ġorġ Mallia is associate professor, Media and Communications.

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