Fabian Demicoli

Health and Safety in Malta – 10 years after

 Avoid an over bureaucratic approach says GRTU – Malta micro, small and medium enterprises, commonly referred to as SMEs, represent 99.9% of total enterprises. GRTU Executive Carmen Borg has this week participated at the OHSA conference marking its 10 years anniversary. GRTU, in representation of employers, forms part of the tripartite structure within the OHSA Board. GRTU congratulates OHSA for the contributions it has constantly delivered during the past 10 years.

 

Since its inception, OHSA has been considered by GRTU to be based on sound principles and we feel that it has contributed to bringing about a change in the mentality and approach of our members. From our assessment members have over the years increased their understanding of what constitute safety measures within their specific sector and have learned to appreciate the value of abiding with such conditions. Their approach to health and safety features at the workplace has therefore become more positive and the GRTU can safely say that its members and the absolute majority of SMEs today commit to the overall holistic view of Health and Safety at the place of work.

It is not only important to assess the level of implementation of health and safety measures focusing on SMEs because they are in fact the biggest employers but also because it is very easy to keep an eye on the few larger enterprises but it is very difficult to do this with all the thousands of micro and small enterprises in existence today. GRTU therefore feels that extra efforts are required when dealing with SMEs and we feel we have reason to celebrate on the seriousness with which our SMEs, who have too little resources to work with, deal with health and safety at the place of work.

This can be proved through the success achieved by a constant reduction in the number of injuries at the place of work as can be seen in the latest published figures of the last six years. Figures show that there is a positive downward trend in work related injuries.

The number of injuries at the place of work has reduced from 0.31% in 2006 to 0.21% in the gainfully employed figures of 2011. The number of fatalities has also decreased during this period.

GRTU contributes by constantly creating awareness within our members, providing them with all available Health and Safety information and also by stressing the importance of the education and training element within the Health and Safety sector. We do this through our weekly newsletter, the GRTU newSTRING and through our constant contacts and meetings with members, etc. GRTU also uses other media such as radio programmes to keep our members aware about the prevention needed to avoid health and safety issues at their place of work. Since most of our members are small to medium enterprises who normally have a limited amount of funding, our EU Desk constantly advises about the possible sourcing of EU funds to improve and strengthen the Health and Safety element within their organizations. More information and our online publication can be found on the GRTU website http://www.grtu.eu/.

During our sectoral and locality meetings, GRTU always stresses the importance of investing in the training of staff in Health and Safety requirements, and also emphasizes about the utmost importance that all Health and Safety legislation should always be respected and followed through. We feel that our efforts and that of the OHSA could be however further amplified if we would work closer together and unite our resource. 

During the past year GRTU has participated in discussions with the OHSA concerning "Stress at the Place of work" for which several of our members also participated in a seminar.

GRTU is all in favour of increasing the Health and Safety at every place of work but it is imperative for new initiatives in this regard to be sensitive to business. Sensitive to business meaning it is not disproportionately burdensome compared to the results it seeks to achieve, it is based on the resources to implement of the smallest business, the much talked about "think small first", and it is accompanied by an impact assessment. This does not in any way mean that we do away with health and safety because the measures are too burdensome but that we must together find a solution that will implement without placing additional burdens. This is an area where we as GRTU expect more communication from the side of the OHSA and these are the subjects we expect to discuss on the OHSA board. Subjects which are relevant in application and by which decisions taken may effect the life of a business owner or make it either more complicated or easier.

GRTU is also aware of the fact that even OHSA is limited by its financial resources. This may impact negatively on its operation. For this reason GRTU suggests that OHSA should focus mainly on its core responsibility which is that of regulation. From the experience it has gained over the years and from the feedback we receive from members we feel that the OHSA is not as dynamic as the GRTU and the enterprises would wish to move towards the private sector. The private sector must be aided in the area of health and safety.

GRTU expects much more emphasis on training, provision of funds and additional tax advantages for the private sector to successfully implement health and safety measures. The schemes for health and safety are over and above any other schemes that firms may be enjoying such as innovation, restructuring on training and recruitment.

Government contracts still do not emphasise enough the need for suppliers to be certified OHSA approved operators so those firms that spend quality money in health and safety are out-bidded by others who spend little or nothing on approved standards.

Many small businesses are family run so health and safety at the workplace means health and safety for their family members. For these SMEs the work organisation is not simply a factory or a large establishment of owner and workers but an "us" atmosphere so hand holding rather than imposition.

An over bureaucratic attitude only creates an antagonistic approach by many small business owners towards the authority; this can very easily be avoided. An authority must not necessarily mean being another bureaucratic nuisance. An authority has to be practical. If the authority does not work close with business and its representatives, like the GRTU, it will become bureaucratic, its principles will become irrelevant to the real practical objectives, its objectives will become far fetched. Enterprise and especially, forming the absolute majority, small businesses are the clients of OHSA. OHSA has to sell its objectives and safety standards to these enterprises. More work and communication is necessary in this regard.

GRTU is represented by executive Ms Carmen Borg on the OHSA Board.

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