Malta is fortunate: there have been no cases of major fires in recent years that have led to large loss of life. This is partly due to traditional building materials in older buildings. However, with the development of building techniques involving modern materials and methods, particularly in multi-storey buildings, such as hotels, it may be only a matter of time before there is a major incident.
To take the case of hotels; many traditional buildings have been converted to accommodate tourists. Several have a single unprotected staircase to allow people to evacuate in case of fire. Add to this the common practice of providing light or service shafts, and the potential for rapid fire spread to trap people on upper floors is obvious.
Sadly, there is no agency that has the power, and importantly the knowledge and experience, to enforce the fire safety laws on the island. Additionally, such fire safety requirements as are mentioned in legislation are often vague, and open to different interpretation.
To fall in line with the rest of Europe, is it time that Malta introduced a risk assessment based approach to providing adequate fire safety measures? In my opinion, there is an urgent need to compile a register of competent fire risk assessors, based on their knowledge, skills, training and experience. This register could be compiled and held by OHSA, and only approved assessors would be allowed to practice.
Fire safety is an holistic entity; it does not consist of just providing enough fire extinguishers and signs. Neither is it enough to quote from guidance. Fire safety should be in the hands of suitably experienced, skilled and trained fire safety advisors, whether they be government enforcers or from private companies.
Phil Jones is Fire Safety Manager at International Safety Training College.