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Legal action 'likely' after Safi crane accident
Crane - photo by www.timesofmalta.comThe Occupational Health and Safety Authority was likely to take legal action against people involved in the crane accident in Safi on Monday, CEO Mark Gauci said.

Preliminary investigations suggest there was negligence, he said, adding, however, it was still early to specify who the action would involve. It could be the developer, the contractor, the project coordinator and supervisor, the crane owner or its operator.

Establishing responsibility for crane use was not that clear cut. According to the different sets of regulations referring to cranes, issued under the OHSA Act 2000, legal responsibility could be shouldered by different people, depending on the circumstances, Dr Gauci explained.

Usually, this is determined on the basis of an employment contract, and the authority is determining that relationship in the Safi case.

Two nuns, a handyman and a workman escaped unhurt in the Safi incident when a tower crane toppled onto the Dominican convent in Salvu Gauci Street, crashing into the hallway that leads to the kitchen and causing the ceiling to cave in and rubble to come raining down.

A look at newspaper reports over the past five years reveals a number of crane accidents, even fatal. On average, four accidents a year occur, with some workers escaping injury but others ending up on the danger list.

Dr Gauci said that, while an employer was responsible for the crane's safety, if the operator was competent in terms of the law, he also had his own responsibilities to shoulder.

According to Legal Notice 281 of 2004, the project supervisor is also responsible for the safe operation of the crane, which has to cause "the least risk" to workers and third parties.

"Technically speaking, a risk can never be eliminated but only controlled. The regulations place the responsibility to control these risks on duty holders," Dr Gauci said.

The crane operator has to have the necessary training and experience and the OHSA has worked with the Chamber of Engineers to hold regular training courses for prospective crane operators.

If an insufficiently trained person was tasked by an employer to use a crane, then it would be the employer's responsibility, he explained.

Crane operations are also the subject of a Code of Practice but failure to comply with its provisions is not an offence. It was only justifiable, however, if the employer adopted measures offering a higher level of employee protection, Dr Gauci said.

Speaking about the construction industry, Dr Gauci said "it is inconceivable" that the authority would ever have the necessary manpower to physically check all the new building sites. The Malta Environment and Planning Authority issues 7,000 to 8,000 permits a year.

"Even if it did, the regular inspection of every workplace would not eliminate accidents, the majority of which are caused by unsafe work practices. Systems may be in place at sites but an accident can still occur through an act of sudden negligence," he said. The authority is proposing that no building permits are issued unless all obligations are met and the project supervisor should prepare a health and safety plan at design stage.

The appointment of a project supervisor was an important step in the control of risks at construction sites, having the legal responsibility to ensure compliance with the regulations and the health and safety plan, Dr Gauci said.

He noted that buildings were still being constructed without satisfying health and safety legislation.

"The architect should issue a declaration that the design conforms with the legal requirements before a permit is issued and another once the building is finished.

"Does it make sense for the OHSA to force an employer to provide emergency routes and exits in a newly-erected building? It is less costly to prevent than to take remedial action," he said.

Source: Times of Malta - 19/02/2009
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 March 2009 16:34