Health and safety authorities were warned three times about unsafe construction in Swieqi but only took an interest once part of the building collapsed, neighbours have claimed.
Authorities have however insisted that is not true and said officers visited the area twice within the space of a week, issuing stop orders for works on two adjacent sites.
A 24-year-old Senegalese worker was hurt on Wednesday after part of the building he was working on – a wall in what used to be a maisonette - collapsed. Lifting him out of the rubble required Civil Protection Department expertise.
Neighbours who spoke to Times of Malta said that their warnings had been in vain.
“We contacted the Occupational Health and Safety Authority at least three times and sent them photos and video footage,” a woman who asked to remain anonymous said.
“An officer called me once to ask if works were under way at that moment – which they weren’t – and that was the last I heard of them”.
Video of the works show a construction worker standing on top of a residence’s roof as he demolished it using a jackhammer. Mounds of rubble visible below suggest the roof was not being jacked up for support, and photos indicate employees were not wearing any ear, eye or head protection as they worked.
The woman showed Times of Malta copies of e-mails she had sent to the OHSA dating back to the start of April.
“All we got was an acknowledgement,” she said. “Works continued. And sure enough, the inevitable happened”.
Two inspections and two stop orders - OHSA
The OHSA, however, insisted it had followed up on the complaints.
“There are three adjacent properties in the area which are being demolished,” an OHSA spokesperson told Times of Malta.
“Inspectors visited the site on April 4 and ordered works to be stopped that same day. While there, they noticed that a second site next door was being demolished without the OHSA having been notified. They ordered works to be stopped there too”.
OHSA officials had returned to the site on April 10 but no works were under way at the time, the spokesperson said.
In the ensuing days, owners of the second site had gotten their paperwork in order and the OHSA had lifted its order to halt works, the authority spokesman said.
On Wednesday, part of that same site collapsed during works.
“An investigation is now under way and it is too early to establish the root cause of the incident,” the spokesperson said.
The neighbours who spoke to Times of Malta were unconvinced by the authority’s explanations.
“It might be technically two different sites, but workers always entered from the same doorway,” they said.
The police said worker’s injuries were very serious, with the OHSA saying that he had suffered a fractured leg in the incident.
The OHSA is often forced to defend itself from accusations of inaction, and its CEO Mark Gauci has repeatedly said that the authority is chronically understaffed and under-resourced, with less than half the staff it was originally meant to have when it was set up in the early 2000s.
“We can’t be at every workplace at the same time,” Mr Gauci had told #TimesTalk almost two years ago, in an interview in which he argued that it was “wrong, misguided and unfair” to blame the authority for every workplace accident.
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