The harder they fall

The harder they fall

The law burdens the Occupational Health and Safety Authority with the responsibility of ensuring that the physical, psychological and social well-being “of all workers in all work places” are promoted.

It does not have the power to resuscitate a construction worker who dies in a fall or to restore the limb of a machine operator who loses his arm in a shop-floor mishap. In other words, the OHSA must strive to prevent accidents at work.

Is it succeeding in its task, which, no doubt, is a very difficult one? Chief executive officer Mark Gauci was quoted saying that fatalities had dropped from an average of 12 every year to an average of four. That is very good news but even one fatality is a death too many and a severed limb is a life-changer to both the victim and his/her dear ones. Society cannot be blamed, therefore, when, learning about accidents at work, it demands answers from those it rightly holds as being responsible for occupational health and safety. This outcry is usually manifested in the press and the social media.

It is useless arguing, as happened when a young Libyan worker fell to his death at a construction site late last month, that those pointing fingers at the OHSA could be misguided.

Society, and the media, will keep expecting the OHSA to do something about what to many appears to be a free-for-all as far as safety precautions at the place of work go, especially at many construction sites.

Dr Gauci lamented to Maltatoday that though the media “is looking at us... the law ensures that the client is the one who has the legal obligation to ensure occupational health and safety”.

Indeed, the Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act lays down that it is the duty of an employer to continuously ensure the health and safety of all people who may be affected by the work being carried out. It also notes that workers too have obligations in terms of occupational health and safety.

Still, the OHSA is bound by law “to see that the levels of occupational health and safety protection established by this Act and by regulations made under this Act are maintained”.

Thus, if an employer fails, for whatever reason, to ensure adequate safety precautions are in place, the OHSA must step in and take all necessary action to make sure the provisions of the law are respected. No ifs and buts.

Admittedly, the OHSA cannot be everywhere all the time but it can certainly ensure its presence is felt at least where abuse is there for all to see.

It must also prove to be effective by naming and shaming and ensuring that the law falls on defaulters – especially the more daring, nonchalant ones – like a ton of bricks. If the law does not allow it, then it is time for it to be improved.

Of course, the best way to ensure prevention is through education. The OHSA should publish, in a timely manner, the findings of its investigations, especially the recommendations it makes, whenever a serious workplace accident occurs. Again, if the law needs to be amended, so be it.

The OHSA must be seen to be more proactive. The harder they fall, the more determined it must be.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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