News / 11 September 2018, 08:00am / Sibongile Mashaba and Tebogo Monama
The Gauteng provincial government has taken the drastic action of evacuating its employees from at least nine unsafe buildings in the Joburg city centre.
Gauteng provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said the decision comes after the Bank of Lisbon building, which housed three government departments, caught fire last week.
Firefighters Simphiwe Moropane, 28, Khathutshelo Muedi, 37, and Mduduzi Ndlovu, 40, lost their lives as they battled the blaze in the building.
Masebe said all nine buildings were not occupational health and safety (OHS) compliant and had to be evacuated.
“The provincial government has decided to evacuate the nine buildings that do not meet the minimum OHS standards so that urgent work can be undertaken to ensure that buildings comply with the OHS.
“Heads of departments have instructed officials to report to temporary service sites, including regional, district and satellite branches.
"Affected departments include Human Settlements, Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Health, Social Development and the Office of the Premier, among others,” Masebe said.
On Monday, staff at the Department of Human Settlements challenged head of department Matilda Gasela to resign for putting their lives in danger by continuing to let them work in the unsafe building.
According to a staff member, during a meeting to update employees after the fire, Gasela was asked whether she would take personal responsibility and resign.
Gasela then reportedly told the staff she would wait for the investigation into the fire to be concluded and, if she was implicated in wrongdoing, she would resign.
The staff member said they would stay home indefinitely while the department tries to secure a new building for them.
“Management told us that they are trying to get us space at 11 Diagonal Street. We have staff who work on one floor there already and they want to get an additional four floors,” the staff member said.
The meeting could not resolve when the public servants would return to work.
“It is unclear when we will be able to get back to work. They said they would let us know as soon as they get a new building,” he said.
Masebe said safety engineers had assessed the structural integrity of the Bank of Lisbon building and reported there was no immediate threat of the building collapsing, except for some defects due to the fire.
“Further assessments are being conducted in this regard.
“The forensic investigators have also commenced with the investigation into the cause of the fire.
“It is important to note that the structural integrity of the buildings is not the sole contributing factor to the non-compliance with the OHS standards.
“Other compliance issues raised by the OHS include but are not limited to the lack of awareness of the evacuating procedures by staff members, absence of walking rails on staircases, lack of identifiable exit routes, and insufficient fire extinguishers.
“These will be looked into during inspection of the identified buildings,” Masebe said.