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Action will finally be taken over fireworks safety report

Lifesaving recommendations to make the fireworks’ industry safer will start being implemented at the end of next month – nearly a year and a half after they were drafted, a spokes-man for the Home Affairs Ministry said yesterday.

I can’t see why it should have taken so long

The man who headed an inquest that followed several fireworks-related deaths in 2010 has welcomed the move.

“I’m happy to hear that they will be implemented,” said chemist Alfred Vella.

“I can’t see why it should have taken so long.”

The inquiry into the fireworks industry had led to the drafting of recommendations that were published in December 2011. But the report ended up gathering dust.

Interest in it was rekindled when, on Monday, the preparation of ground fireworks were mentioned as the possible cause of an explosion that took place at a residence in Mqabba, injuring fireworks enthusiast Nicholas Ghigo, 79.

Mr Ghigo, who has dementia, suffered burns to his hands, feet and chest. Yesterday, police described his condition as “critical but stable”.

Sources said Mr Ghigo was believed to be in his yard rolling the paper casings for squibs, used in ground fireworks or ġigġifogu, when the explosion took place.

However, investigating officers yesterday said they were still puzzled over what could have caused the blast as “nothing conclusive” was found on site.

Swabs have been taken from the scene and sent for forensic tests to try and establish whether any explosive material was involved.

A possibility that is being considered was that Mr Ghigo unwrapped a small black bomb, usually used in fireworks displays, or that there was material contaminated with black powder which caused the blast, sources said.

When contacted by The Times, Prof. Vella said that under Maltese law it is already illegal to manufacture fireworks in residential areas. The 2011 report was mainly targeted as making legal fireworks’ practices safer.

The ministry spokesman said that last Thursday a copy of the Vella report was handed over to the former Civil Protection Department director Patrick Murgo, who will be responsible for overseeing its implementation.

Mr Murgo has been earmarked for the post of Director, Implementation of Reforms, within the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security.

Next week a reform board will meet to start drawing up an implementation strategy for the recommendations, which have been “stuck on paper”.

The board will be made up of a representative of the Pyrotechnics Association, newly appointed CPD director John Rizzo (the former police commissioner) and representatives from the Home Affairs’ Ministry and the Armed Forces.

They will ensure that the important report will finally see the light of day, the spokesman said, adding that recommendations will start being implemented by the end of May.

The 2011 commission, headed by Prof. Vella, had carried out a comprehensive review of practices in the fireworks industry.

This followed a September 2010 explosion at the Farrugia Brothers factory in Għarb which killed six people and practically wiped out an entire family.

The report was published in December 2011 but then Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici said it would first be opened to public consultation before a stakeholder conference would establish which measures to adopt.

Nearly a year later, the Nationalist government said it was waiting for proposals from the Explosives Committee, a consultative body on fireworks, before moving to implement the report’s basic recommendations to improve safety.

The report called for all chemical mixtures to undergo rigorous scientific testing before they could be used in fireworks manufacture and suggested establishing a specialised testing centre for this purpose.

It pointed out that no Maltese law regulated the quality of chemicals used in fireworks manufacture and called for this to change. It also touched on the manner in which fireworks were transported and recommended safer practices.

The 2011 report also predicted that Malta would experience at least one large-scale fatal fireworks accident within one or two years unless firework regulations were amended.

Last year, that prediction came tragically true: a fire-works factory in Għarb blew up, killing four people.

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