Small construction projects and near misses go under the radar

construction site
Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Occupational Health and Safety Authority’s failure to keep records on near misses and to receive notifications on smaller construction projects appear to hinder its efforts to reduce accidents and injuries in the construction industry, according to the National Audit Office.

The NAO issued a report to follow-up its own 2016 analysis of the OHSA’s operations with respect to the construction industry, and in its report it did positively note that a number of recommendations have been accepted – even though the degree of implementation varied. But it also flagged a number of areas in which progress was insignificant, or where the OHSA rejected the office’s advice.

The office reiterated its recommendation that the thresholds for the authority to be notified of construction activity should be revised, expressing its belief that they were set too high when the scale of construction in Malta was considered. As a result, the NAO argued, the authority lacked visibility on numerous projects which still posed significant occupational health and safety risks.

But the OHSA insisted that requiring notification for all construction projects would be a bureaucratic burden, noting that the thresholds were in line with EU directives. At present, notification is required for work scheduled to last more than 30 days and on which more than 20 workers are expected to be deployed simultaneously, or if a project is set to exceed 500 person-days.

The NAO also argued that there was a need to document near misses. Citing European studies, it said that by doing so, companies can learn from near-misses without having to suffer the consequences of an accident. But once more, the OHSA answered that doing so would be a bureaucratic burden.

Proper computer systems should be prioritised

However, the office also flagged the OHSA’s lack of a proper management information system (MIS), noting that the authority relied heavily on paper and MS Excel to keep data. It argued that this inhibited the authority’s ability to oversee construction projects. Another issue was a lack of staff, though the NAO noted that the automation of certain processes through an adequate MIS would help mitigate this shortage.

Though it acknowledged that such a system came at a considerable cost, it felt that an authority with a remit as wide and varied as the OHSA could not afford to do without.

As for site inspections, while the NAO conceded that an exhaustive checklist would be unwieldy, it still argued for all details to be recorded on a checklist, with an “other remarks” section covering details which may not be included in it.

In its review of 32 OHSA files, which comprised 69 inspections, it noted 22 instances in which the checklist was not deemed required as works had either not started or had been completed when the inspection took place. But in the other 47 inspections, a checklist was only used on 7 occasions.