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Old and outdated lifts, a scarcity of properly trained technicians and government inspections that are virtually non-existent, have taken the number of lift accidents and fatalities to record levels.
The Lift Inspectors Association of South Africa said this as a Wentworth family grieved the loss of their father and husband who was crushed to death while repairing a lift at La Mercy Beach Hotel in oThongathi (Tongaat) on Wednesday.
Mark Isaac Smith, 53, an assistant lift technician at Express Lifts, in Mayville, was killed in what has been described as a freak accident.
Theo Kleinhans, chairman of the Lift Inspectors Association of South Africa,
said the incidents of lift accidents and fatalities have never been as high as they have in the past five years.
“In some instances, lifts are old and outdated and cannot be fixed through modern technology,” he said. “But, instead of replacing, some companies and individuals stay with the faulty lifts, which pose huge safety risks.”
Kleinhans said many of the accidents could also be attributed to the lack of training of lift technicians.
“In the past, a lift technician had to complete a five-year apprenticeship programme. Nowadays, they get away with a three-year apprenticeship programme and a trade test,” he said. “These assistants are also graded and have been given more powers than in the past.”
Smith’s son, Jonathan Mark Smith, 32, said yesterday that they wanted a full investigation by police and the Department of Labour.
“I identified my father’s body at the mortuary and it was not a pleasant sight,” Smith said. “He was badly injured. I can’t even bring myself to describe the extent of his injuries. It was not a good sight.”
Department of Labour spokes-man, Jay Anand, said inspectors would investigate the cause of the accident. “If negligence is found, we will have to investigate who was responsible.”
KZN police spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge, said an inquest docket had been opened at the oThongathi Police station. “The company, Express Lifts, was doing maintenance at the hotel at about 12.30pm when the man was crushed by a lift. He died at the scene,” he said.
Hotel management declined to comment and referred all questions to Express Lifts, whose spokesman, John Merle, said it was a “freak accident” that was being investigated by police and the Department of Labour.
“No one knows what happened,” Merle said. “There were two people on duty – Smith and a supervisor. Hopefully, once the investigation is completed we will have some answers.”
Conflicting reports have emerged after Smith’s death from people who were at the scene.
While some alleged that Smith had died after the lift fell on him, others reported that he had allegedly plunged to his death after a cable snapped.
It is thought that the lift doors had not been working and the lift technician was attempting to locate the fault. The incident is said to have happened on the fourth and fifth floor of the hotel.
A source, who wished to remain anonymous, described the scene as gruesome.
“He was crushed by the lift and his head sustained the impact. It was a horrible, bloody scene. Thankfully, he died instantly.”
Kleinhans called on companies and businesses to adopt preventative measures and ensure regular maintenance to prevent accidents.
“There is no such thing as a freak accident in my books,” he said. “Accidents don’t just happen, they are caused. Lift companies need to broaden their training programmes. This will also ensure better safety standards.”
The lift industry was highly regulated, he said. “We report all non-conformance to the Labour Department. But, there is little or no policing by them.”
Jonathan Smith said on Thursday that he got the news of his father’s death from an Express Lifts employee on Wednesday.
“I was shocked, and we then went to my mother’s place of work and told her,” he said. “It was so hard to believe. ”
He said his younger siblings, Sarah Jane, 16, and Andrew Timothy, 15, were devastated.
”With a full and proper investigation, we hope to get some answers as to what really happened. Maybe, that will give us some closure.”
Other lift tragedies in recent years include that of a Durban teenager, Sheldon Samuel, who suffered a spinal fracture after a lift at the Wild Coast Sun plummeted two floors..
Three years earlier, in 2007, Prega Pillay plunged four floors to his death in a lift shaft at the same hotel.
Pillay reportedly pressed the lift button on the hotel’s fourth floor, turned to offer his wife his outstretched hand and then stepped in.
The lift, however, had not arrived and he tumbled into the dark shaft. He sustained fatal head injuries and broken limbs. - Daily News