Managing fireworks production
Up to 2007 there were 35 fireworks factories in Malta and four in Gozo, operating to full or nearly full capacity. In 2012 there are only 29 factories manufacturing fireworks (two of them in Gozo).
In the past five years, seven factories have stopped production completely. These are the 15th August of Dwejra in the limits of Rabat (Malta), Farrugia Brothers of Ta’ Abdilla and Qalb ta’ Ġesu of Ta’ Garrija, both in the limits of Għarb, St Gabriel of Iklin, St Helen and Briffa Fireworks, both of Xwieki in the limits of Naxxar, and Union of Ħal Saflieni, Luqa.
One licenced factory in Malta has practically zero production while another one in Gozo has not yet started production. The St Michael Fireworks Factory in Iklin is not being supplied with the oxidizers potassium nitrate and potassium chlorate.
With the manufacture of fireworks remaining relatively stable over the past few years, it is clear that we are facing a problem.
The factories are saturated with chemicals, semi-finished products and fireworks ready to be let off, with the inherent risk that an incident such as a spark or small explosion will start a chain of events that culminates in a major disaster. The death of a single pyrotechnist is unacceptable and must not be tolerated.
There are a number of solutions. The first that comes to mind is the building of more fireworks factories and the relocation of those factories that have stopped production due to urbanisation.
However, this is easier said than done. With the unavailability of large stretches of land and the lack of a coherent policy on fireworks factories by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, the development of new sites for fireworks production appears to be very remote.
An in-depth study of what might have caused the recent explosions with the ensuing destruction of the complexes prompts me to make a number of other suggestions.
It appears that there is a disturbing lack of good management in the fireworks factories.
Over the years, the manufacture of fireworks has become more complex. New chemicals and methods of production have been introduced, while regulations and laws governing fireworks production are introduced periodically.
Licensees are doing their best to keep things going but are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the changes. This explains the fact that many fireworks factories are struggling to find new licensees when the incumbent licensees decide to call it a day.
The following steps should be implemented:
1. Start with the present licensees. Let the authorities meet them as a group. Let them air their problems, frustrations and grievances. Listen to them carefully.
2. Offer the licensees a good course in leadership and management skills – train them to be good leaders and managers.
3. Help the licensees organise an effective management system in their factories by drawing up guidelines governing fireworks production and storage.
4. Oblige the licensees to concentrate solely on management. The role of the licensee should be to oversee production and implement an effective health-and-safety culture, with tried and tested procedures.
5. Do not expect the licensee to manage everything on his own. He has too many responsibilities.
6. The licensees must enforce the practice that the areas where fireworks production takes place are absolutely free of semi-finished and manufactured fireworks at all times. The pyrotechnist must work using minimal amounts of chemicals near him.
This ensures that a small spark or minor incident remains localised and does not start a chain reaction of explosions with tragic consequences.
In the long run, the solution to the problems being faced by the pyrotechnic industry is the creation of a number of very small groups of people led by licensees and trained in good management skills, with an eagle eye on the manufacturing process and imbued with a health-and-safety culture that is progressive and identifies and nips problems in the bud.
Each fireworks factory must have this ideal management team.
Servolo Delicata is a member of the Inspectorate for the Fireworks Factories.