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Stop the death and destruction

Just over two years ago on a Sunday afternoon, a huge explosion ripped through the Farrugia Brothers’ Fireworks Factory in Għarb wiping out an entire family.

Last Sunday afternoon, just 500 metres from the site of that tragic explosion, three huge blasts from another fireworks factory in Għarb killed the factory owner and three other men.

Our hearts naturally go out to the family and friends of all these men whose lives have been so needlessly cut short, though it must be noted that they should not have been working there at all on a Sunday given the danger posed to others.

Sadly, this tragic destruction of human life and limb is virtually an annual event in Malta and Gozo. Fireworks accidents appear to stalk our lives, occurring in Malta twice alone in the last seven months, thankfully without loss of life.

The roll-call of death by fireworks seems to continue unabated. But should it? In a civilised society should there be such apparent slip-shod attention to the health, safety, regulation and supervision of fireworks factories?

When fireworks factories explode, they are not caused by acts of God. They are caused by acts of all-too-human frailty.

Fireworks factories in Malta and Gozo – and there are literally scores of them dotted around our countryside – blow up either because men make mistakes, or because they break the rules, or because ensuring strict adherence to the safety regulations is not enforced by those charged with doing so.

To say this is not to underestimate the human agony suffered by the families and friends of those who die in such accidents. Nor is it to underplay the dedication and love of making fireworks – mostly by self-taught, gifted amateurs (dilettanti) – of those who perish in such explosions.

But it is to underline brutally – if such underlining were really necessary – that there is an urgent need to do something radical to ensure fireworks explosions become a thing of the past.

Until the Government and fireworks enthusiasts come to believe fervently that each accident is one too many, each death or maiming one death or injury too many, and that this must not happen again, we shall not see an end to the annual death and destruction.

With each successive fireworks accident or misdemeanor, the Government has promised action. Reviews have been conducted, fireworks inspections have supposedly been beefed up and regulations apparently tightened up. The law lays down clear criteria for issuing licences. Controls on the type of chemical and explosives that may be used have been introduced. An explosives committee and groups of experts to advise the Minister for Home Affairs (now the Prime Minister) are in place.

But the Government has clearly failed to deliver a safe fireworks environment as the latest tragic accident demonstrates.

It seems palpably clear that the weakness lies in the application of the regulations on the ground.

It is the administration of the law, not the law itself, which is the void lying at the heart of this life-threatening manufacturing industry. Until the Government acts decisively to implement the most stringent safety regulations to fireworks factories on the ground, the annual litany of death and destruction will continue.

For a start, and as a demonstration of intent, no fireworks factories should be permitted in Għarb, which is an area of natural beauty where tourists and families are encouraged to roam.

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