Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA).

JOHANNESBURG - The Democratic Alliance said on Friday reports on safety hazards at the Bank of Lisbon building in central Johannesburg where provincial department offices went up in flames were not acted on because an occupational health and safety committee was only set up in the second quarter of this year.

The 23-storey building which houses the province's departments of health, human settlements and cooperative governance caught fire on Wednesday and was extinguished on Thursday night. 

One firefighter fell to his death while two others died while battling the blaze. The three have been named as Simphiwe Moropane (28), Mduduzi Ndlovu (40), and Kathutshelo Muedi (37). At least 13 officials from the department of health were hospitalised and treated for smoke inhalation, but have since been discharged. 

DA spokesperson on health Jack Bloom said a meeting of the Gauteng Legislature's health committee held on Thursday revealed that former Gauteng member of the executive committee (MEC) for health Qedani Mahlangu failed to ensure that there was an occupational health and safety committee for the Bank of Lisbon building.

It took more than a year for incumbent health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa to get it set up only a few months ago, Bloom said.

"An occupational health and safety committee is required to be set up in terms of Section 19 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, so the department was in breach of safety legislation for five years, including the whole period when Qedani Mahlangu was Health MEC from May 2014 to January 2017," he added.

The occupational health and safety committee had only two meetings this year and did not receive the recent report from the department of infrastructure development that indicated the building was only 21 percent compliant with safety standards. 

"The lack of a functioning occupational health and safety committee in the past few years can be seen as a major contributor to the tragic fire in which three firefighters died," said Bloom.

The Thursday meeting also revealed that there was a tender last year to relocate health officials from the building, but it was cancelled by the department of infrastructure development "for various reasons".

The Gauteng government on Friday moved to establish a high-level steering committee to centralise the safety function for all buildings accommodating government employees. The immediate priority for the committee will be to oversee the evacuation of officials from non-compliant buildings and temporarily relocate them to suitable ones.

The committee will be chaired by MEC for the department of infrastructure development Jacob Mamabolo.

Mamabolo admitted on Wednesday that the building, among eight owned by government in Joburg, was only 21 percent compliant against the norm of 85 percent in terms of safety rules, and contravened the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

He said the workers would ultimately be accommodated within the Kopanong precinct, a R16 billion inner-city rejuvenation programme which will also inject investment into all government owned government buildings through a public-private partnership.

African News Agency (ANA)