Reference is made to the video carried online in the Times of Malta of July 19, showing a truck being driven in Attard and leaving behind a cloud of dust. This is just one of the many common malpractices of building contractors and their workers in Malta and Gozo.
Many contractors blatantly disregard the law by blocking pavements, occupy parking spaces without proper permits, fail to use vacuuming tools and as a result unnecessarily emit dust from the building site, do not clean the tyres of their vehicles before these exit the site, thus dirtying nearby streets... the list is endless.
Often adherence to the law is tongue-in-cheek and cynical, as is the case when used and re-used ragged pieces of green material cover building sites, supposedly to contain emissions of dust, or when loads of building debris carried on construction trucks are covered with old flimsy rags.
The Facebook community, which I administer, titled ‘Against Building Regulations Abuse’ (acronym ABRA) often carries pictures, sent by members of this community, of malpractices and sub-standard construction site management. Apart from the abuses mentioned above, these pictures show dangerous excavations, use of old rusty scaffolding with protruding edges, and use of concrete wire mesh, often left untrimmed, preciously fitted to cover excavated ground.
Health and safety practices on building sites are abysmal, and many deaths and accidents suffered by construction workers could be avoided
Members of the ABRA community often complain about excessive noise on building sites, and about the commencement of work very early in the morning, against the regulations.
A frequent occurrence near building sites, pictures of which are also carried on the ABRA site, is the use of bricks or stone slabs as no-parking signs.
Often these bricks or stone slabs are left lying on the pavements ready to be used again whenever the contractor or his workers want to occupy parking spaces.
Apart from the uglifying impact of badly managed building sites and discomfort caused to nearby residents, there are also problems relating to health and safety. One often hears of accidents on building sites, at times the result of bad management and disregard of safety regulations.
Health and safety practices on building sites in Malta and Gozo are abysmal, and many deaths and accidents suffered by construction workers could be avoidedif contractors do not penny pinch on safety measures.
It is difficult to understand why on a construction worth many thousands of euros, if not millions, contractors often use scrap materials, totally disregarding their uglifying effects.
One often sees leftover pieces of wood or rusty iron mesh used instead of temporary doors, important building-site notices shoddily fixed to the wall with left-over pieces of wood, and ad hoc notices roughly painted on pieces of old cardboard.
The old polluting vehicles used by many contractors, many of which should be scrapped, the unsightly hoardings and use of scrap materials and the flimsy cover on transported building debris, also serve as evidence of the scrimping habits of many contractors.
This culture of malpractices on building sites obviously needs to be controlled.
There are three major negative effects, namely uglification of the neighbourhood, discomfort to residents living nearby mostly through air and noise pollution, and safety risks to the workers and to passers-by.
Unfortunately, during these last three years, with the rapid growth of the construction industry, enforcement against building abuse and malpractices seems to be weakening and atrocious and disgraceful building site practices seem to be increasing as a result.
All this calls for stronger and stricter enforcement and harsher penalties aimed at controlling abuse and malpractices on building sites. The current enforcement arrangements are largely ineffective, as can be seen from the frequent occurrence of shoddy and sub-standard site management.
Regulatory bodies such as the Building Regulations Office and the Health and Safety Authorities should be properly manned - the human resources available to these bodies do not seem to be enough to oversee the hundreds of building sites spread over Malta and Gozo.
These inspectors should visit sites frequently, from the very start of the project, and on a routine basis thereafter, and not (mostly) in response to calls by exasperated residents. Also, inspectors should have police support when the contractors blatantly disregard the regulations.
The government should, through an appropriate agency, draw up, publish and publicise a manual of good practice on building sites, which contractors would be expected to abide with.
This manual should complement the Environmental Management Construction Site Regulations (L.N. 295 of 2007), and would go into more detail as to how the building site should be managed.
It should include guidelines as to how contractors should provide information to nearby residents well in advance to the commencement of the construction, the likely date of completion of the building and methods of fostering good relations between the contractor/s and the residents living near the buidling sites.
Licences for contractors should then be contingent on the applicants’ knowledge of the rules of good practice as explained in the manual.
Lino Briguglio writes on behalf of 20 others.
Lino Briguglio is professor of economics and director, Islands and Small States Institute.
Facebook page: Against Building Regulations Abuse - click here