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No health, safety audits at Tongaat mall

Durban - No health and safety audits were carried out in the four months preceding the Tongaat Mall's collapse, a commission of inquiry heard in Durban on Thursday.

Two people were killed and 29 injured when the building collapsed on November 19, while it was still under construction.

Emergency workers search for survivors after a building collapsed in Tongaat. Picture: Rogan Ward. Credit: Reuters

Ismaiel van Zyl, a safety consultant appointed by the contractor Gralio Precast (Pty) Ltd, told the commission that he had never signed off on any scaffolding or supports to be removed.

On the day before the accident, when he inspected the site, no one was working on the football pitch-sized portion of the mall that ultimately collapsed.

He said he had not signed off on any scaffolding or supports to be removed at any stage during the time he worked there.

“The Monday that I was there, there was no stripping going on.”

When pressed by the labour department's occupational health and safety manager Phumudzo Maphaha, he said he had not given any consent for the formworks, props or scaffolding to be removed on the next day - the day the accident happened.

The inquiry heard previously that some of the formworks were being removed on the day the slab collapsed.

Formworks are the temporary or permanent moulds into which the concrete is poured.

Van Zyl told the commission his safety folder had disappeared on the day of the accident. It emerged that the book had been taken by one of the supervisors from Gralio without Van Zyl's knowledge.

In further evidence it emerged that the building site foreman had been assigned six safety posts, when the law only allowed for a person to hold a maximum of two such posts.

Van Zyl said he was not aware of any health and safety audits having been carried out or submitted to the labour department in the four months that he had been appointed as a consultant to the project.

Thursday's sitting of the inquiry heard that the structural engineer had only been present at two of the 10 inspections to check post-tensioning cables of the concrete slabs.

Rishen Naidoo of Freyssinet Posten said he was responsible for checking the post-tensioning cables.

Only two of his reports indicated that structural engineer Andre Ballack was on site when he did his inspections.

Ballack only signed one of the reports while Naidoo noted on another that Ballack was present.

Asked if this was irregular, Naidoo said: “Irrespective of whether the engineer is on site I have to do my inspection.”

Naidoo said his inspection had to take place prior to concrete being poured.

On one occasion he had been asked by his immediate superior to inspect a slab to ensure that reinforcing steel had been correctly laid.

Naidoo said on that occasion, on October 7, he noticed that five cables were missing and that some bars had been laid incorrectly.

The person responsible for putting the steel bars and cables into place had either not finished his work or “he was incompetent on this particular slab”.

Naidoo said when he worked with other clients the structural engineer would usually be on site when he conducted his inspections.

He said he was aware that the eThekwini metro municipality had obtained a court order to stop construction on the site.

“But then I was told that everything was sorted and the work continued.”

Sapa

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