Tongaat Mall foreman pleads ignorance

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Copy of ND Pillay (43453036) (43460796) DAILY NEWS Ronnie Pillay, the site foreman during the construction of the Tongaat Mall that collapsed and killed two people, takes the oath at the start of the inquiry into the tragedy. Pillay has been recalled by the commission to give further evidence.

Durban - The site foreman on the Tongaat Mall project says he did not oversee many of the tasks being carried out, insisting it was not his responsibility.

Ronnie Pillay was recalled on Wednesday as a witness in the Department of Labour’s commission of inquiry into the cause of the mall’s collapse that led to death of two workers and the injury of 29 others.

Presiding officer Phumudzo Maphaha said that when Pillay was cross-examined in April, the inquiry did not have the technical information it now had. As he was the most senior person on site on the day of the collapse in November, he had to be recalled.

Questioned about the mixing of concrete on the site, the sequence for the scaffolding removal, the testing of the concrete and when the concrete should be poured, the piling and steel fixing, Pillay repeatedly replied that it was not under his supervision. Each of these tasks was the foreman’s responsibility, he said.

Pillay was adamant that column 243 was the cause of the collapse and not beam 7.

The three possible triggers for the collapse were debated this week by expert engineers hired by the city, the mall engineer’s law firm and the contractor, Gralio Precast.

The triggers were identified as beam 7 and columns 243 and 319.

Consulting engineer Ed Weakley, hired by mall engineer André Ballack’s law firm and Ballack’s insurer, and Dr Piet Pretorius, hired by Cox Yeats attorneys, said beam 7 caused the collapse.

They reasoned this happened because of inadequate steel reinforcing, with seven instead of 19 bars in place, and because the beam was not a continuous structure but was constructed with a “cold joint” - in which concrete is poured in two batches.

Pillay said on Wednesday that the dull noise he heard on the day of the collapse came from the area of column 243 and that it was never the beam.

Under cross-examination by Ballack’s lawyer, Richard Hoal, Pillay was asked whether he knew that his theory was also the contractor’s version.

Pillay said he did not know this and denied changing his version from his earlier testimony, about exactly where he was at the time of the collapse.

Rob Young, the engineer hired by Gralio to investigate the collapse, said this week the columns were under-designed and under stress.

The presiding officer also questioned Pillay on Wednesday about the testing of the concrete during the construction.

Pillay said he was unaware of the test results and that many of the concrete cube samples showed that the concrete was below the required average strength of 30 MPa (megapascals).

“I did not know this prior to the inquiry,” Pillay said. He also said it was not brought to his attention.

“You didn’t see it as a worrying factor that you as the foreman were not getting these results?” Maphaha asked.

Pillay replied that the results were sent to the office and, if there was a serious problem, he would have been told and would have taken action.

He said no short cuts were taken.

The mixing of concrete on site was not under his supervision and had its own foreman supervisor.

Maphaha questioned Pillay on why, during construction, concrete cube samples were not taken from the columns, one of the most important aspects on the site.

Pillay said he was not sure and said there was no instruction to do so.

After the collapse, concrete samples were taken from the area of the collapse and tested. Three tests were conducted on the columns and two of the results showed the columns were below the average 30 MPa standard.

Earlier, the commission heard that Ballack had called for a “step down” to be added to beam 7 in order for it to manage the load being placed on it.

Yesterday, Pillay said the first plan did not refer to a “step down”, and said this was included in the revised plan. However, during construction a step down was not included.

Pillay said no one had given the instruction not to use it, but they had used the original plan.

According to Hoal, Ballack said the design of the beam always had a “step down”.

The inquiry continues.

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