“Human lives are being sacrificed as fodder for construction industry” – FAA
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Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, in a statement, has highlighted what is says is “the damage being wrought to Malta by the tenfold increase in development projects, where human lives are being sacrificed as fodder for the construction industry.”
It argued that “all can see and are experiencing the real costs to society of the government’s economic boom with the rise from 1500 to 15000 applications for building permits annually.”
According to FAA, “the Planning Authority’s political masters have blocked any form of planning, while the Building Regulations Office (BRO) and Occupational Health & Safety Authority (OHSA) are lacking in staff and motivation to manage this tenfold workload increase and ensure developers work within regulations.”
“Developers are ill equipped or uninterested in ensuring proper safety measures or skill checks of workers,” stated the NGO.
Following the recent collapse of a block of apartments in Gwardamangia, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar said that it calls on the authorities to “immediately rein in the issuance of building permits and to enact long-overdue reforms to stamp out malpractice and restrain cowboy developers.”
FAA went on to say that construction workers’ right to work in a safe environment “has been ignored for years, leaving the construction sector with an abysmal track record for the highest rate of workplace injuries and deaths.”
It also argued that, “the presence of so many untrained foreigners on building sites hampers communications and has led to many dangerous situations.”
FAA stressed the point that “minimum training standards on the part of contractors, coupled with the high demand, has led to a situation where persons with no experience, training or qualifications are running building sites or operating cranes, resulting in poor standards of construction and serious accidents.”
The NGO also said that second-hand imported cranes, construction vehicles and even lifts are often not adequately inspected, which leads to vehicles “belching toxic emissions, or worse, to accidents.”
FAA stated that the “lack of qualified and motivated staff at OHSA means that sites can’t be inspected as regularly as they should be. Similarly, the Building Regulation Office (BRO) which is responsible to ensure that management of construction site laws are followed, is chronically under-staffed.”
According to FAA, “the police appear to lean towards developers, closing a blind eye to violations like works beginning before 7am, working on public holidays, failure to use vacuum attachments when grinding stone and failure to wash construction vehicles’ wheels when leaving a construction site, resulting in an increase in serious health problems triggered by dust pollution.”
“Contractors often fail to erect scaffolding, provide safety gear and take over pavements, leaving pedestrians including mothers with strollers and wheelchair users having to risk their lives on busy roads,” stated FAA.
It added that,”cranes, trucks and concrete mixers block Malta’s streets without the necessary permits. Local councils often fail to coordinate works, issuing several permits that block traffic in several adjacent streets, leading to gridlock and adding to air pollution.”
“Architects contribute by caving in to developers’ demands to squeeze the maximum possible number of units into each site, benefitting in the process” said FAA. “This has not only sacrificed design, aesthetic appeal and liveability of such projects, but also led to safety issues, as adequate supervision of building sites to ensure that regulations and method statements are being respected, is lacking.”
The NGO pointed out that, “allowing developers to excavate within a metre or sometimes right up to the walls of neighbouring buildings, has resulted in several structures collapsing and even in deaths. It has contributed to untold damage to neighbours’ properties all over the islands, often not compensated by the culprits.”
FAA went on to say that, architects and developers should not be permitted to submit applications that violate long-standing planning and environmental control norms, such as building on scheduled property or above height limitations.
“Allowing such applications only encourages abuse and wastes large sums of taxpayer funds to process applications which should never be granted,” it said.
The NGO also stressed that buildings under construction “need to be completed within a prescribed shortest possible time, and all apertures sealed in order to avoid damage to neighbouring properties.”
“The only way to stamp out abuse is by proper planning, increasing checks and controls, and by making developers’ records available to the public so that ethical developers are rewarded, while repeat offenders should be heavily penalised”stated FAA. “Until that is done we shall continue to see building site accidents and fatalities.”
It stressed that “all residents have a right to a safe and peaceful existence which is being ruined by the huge increase in construction all over the island, a short-sighted policy on the part of the government which is not only affecting residents’ health and quality of life but also undermining tourism, the real mainstay of our economy.”
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar concluded by saying that “the people have tolerated enough and the government must put the brakes on building developments until all safety and environmental rules and regulations are fully complied with.”
Photograph by Alain Salvary