20 years since Ċirkewwa tragedy – worker died trying to rescue colleagues
A group of workers in a government entity has the difficult task of working in an underground environment where residents’ and industry’s sewage passes through – a job which is disliked by many. This environment offers many challenges due to gases which are dangerous to people. 20 years after the death of three workers at Ċirkewwa, a Television Malta survey shows that the situation is today altogether different as now the health and safety of workers is given the highest priority.
20 years ago today, Frans Ciappara was abroad. He received a telephone call to return immediately, because he was informed that his mother was unwell. It was an excuse because he was told the truth at the airport.
His brother, Carmel, was one of the three workers of the Sewage Department who died on the 27th January 2000 at Ċirkewwa. The tragedy victims also included Joe Vella Parnis and Charles Camenzuli who had gone down a sewage ditch to repair a valve. Frans recounts that this brother died a hero when he intervened in an attempt to save his colleagues.
“Two of his friends had descended to work in the ditch and did not return. He descended once, twice and at the third attempt he died because poisonous fumes went up; that was the tragedy, that is why they died”.
A major cause for the death of the three workers was the fact that they lacked adequate equipment during work. Since then, the sewage workers are under the responsibility of the Water Services Corporation. Its operations chief, Engineer Stefan Riolo, stressed that the Corporation gives priority to the workers’ health and safety.
“There was great progress since 20 years ago. Safety is a very important issue; primarily there was a great change in technology and even in procedures”.
A Television Malta crew observed workers at the place of work in Gozo. Operations manager Brian Borg said that an analysis is carried out before underground work begins on risks involved, with recommendations to be adopted.
“Before workers go down to a confined space – for example we have a 45-metre deep tunnel in Gozo – a confined space & entry work permit is carried out. This permit monitors the air which is calculated by gas detectors.”
Once the air is good, workers wear protective clothes and equipment similar to that of divers. “They have a cylinder, a full face mask, oxygen so that in case there is a danger area, one breathes safely”.
In case of danger, the alarm is triggered by a detector on each worker.
“It detects five gases and if they vary, they are dangerous to persons and therefore an alarm is triggered to give the person time to leave the area”.
Back to base, the equipment is cleaned and tested. The operations manager appealed to everyone to dump only material in the sewage system which is permissible. “This will limit the danger when these persons are working in a dangerous place”.
Brian Borg said the Corporation organises courses for these workers, who are also vaccinated against diseases prevailing from such environment.
The Water Services Corporation has an agreement with the Civil Protection Department on continuous training to workers who are involved in dangerous environments and is using the same type of equipment in emergency cases in order to assist people with better efficiency.