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Incompetent workers, lack of regulation leading to construction industry ‘chaos’

The government’s attempts to enact change are “feeble” – Chamber of Architects

The damage caused by the collapse of three apartment blocks in Gwardamangia. Photo: Chamber of Architects

The Chamber of Architects has described the collapse of a building on Saturday as “a direct symptom of the chaos that prevails in the construction industry”.

The Chamber said it has been asking for a complete overhaul of construction regulatory systems since 2007, describing the government’s attempts to enact change as “feeble”.

They called for immediate action to be taken, saying the industry was “in crisis” due to a complete lack of regulation relating to contractors as well as a “complete lack of adequate competencies among the workforce”.

“Unless we take immediate action, matters will only get worse,” the Chamber said.

Briton Maggie Smith, 77, was injured on Saturday morning in Mellieha when the four storey building she was residing in collapsed at around 6am. The building was next to an active construction site. It was the latest in a series of incidents in recent months.

Describing the state of the construction industry as a “frenzy” designed to turn around development projects in as little time as possible, the Chamber spoke of the need to bring the industry in line with European standards.

The current regulatory framework for the industry in Malta was characterised by an “excessive fragmentation of responsibilities” that leads to uncertainty and lack of accountability, the Chamber said.

While architects adhered to a Code of Professional Conduct and hold a professional warrant, contractors were free to work without any regulation or supervision. This was of particular concern with works such as demolitions and excavations that can be carried out without workers having any insurance, training or technical knowledge, the Chamber said.

Even site managers were not required to have any basic competence or even be literate, according to a statement by the Chamber. This lack of basic competence and regulation results in an “unacceptably high and unnecessary risk” to members of the public.

In October last year, the Chamber called for an overhaul of the regulatory framework. A White Paper for the formation of a new Building and Construction Authority was drawn up and the Chamber made a number of proposals stressing the need to shift from a mindset of development to one of planning, with more of a focus on quality.

Concerns have also been raised over the proposed Gozo Tunnel with the Chamber reiterating that proper studies had to be carried out and published before any decisions were made. The architects added that it was “worrying” that motions had to be passed in Parliament to ensure that all regulations were followed.

Speaking after the collapse of the building in Mellieha on Saturday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that entities and organisations involved in the construction sector would be summoned to Castille for meetings.

Muscat said the rules were clear: There were warranted professionals who had to sign off on projects and contractors who had to follow instructions given by architects. “Responsibilities cannot not be avoided through any argument” he said, adding that “the government was not waiting for tragedies to happen to take action”.

Yet the Chamber’s warnings were made as the development rush has resulted in a number of buildings collapsing and construction workers hospitalised. Six months ago, Akram Almshay, a 26-year old husband and father, lost his life.

On 2 April, two balconies collapsed in Marsascala, almost a year after another three collapsed while a contractor was increasing the number of floors of the property from three to five.

Last week, a Senegalese construction worker was injured when part of a building he was working on in Swieqi collapsed. Neighbours claimed that they had made three reports to the health and safety authority, prior to the incident, but they had been ignored.

A day later, three apartments and an office in Guardamangia collapsed. No one was injured, mainly due to the fact that the pregnant woman, her husband and their infant had left the place a few moments before it came down. Authorities say they don’t know what caused the building to collapse.

Three foreign construction workers have lost their lives on Maltese construction sites between November 2018 and March 2019.

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