Construction Safety – Deadlines Kill

Construction Health and Safety is in the spotlight again after the recent collapse of a three-storey building in Little Falls, Roodepoort. The incident has highlighted the Occupational Safety risks at many of the country’s construction projects.

The Roodepoort complex collapsed , killing two workers and injuring 14 others.

In Houghton last week, a 28 year-old man was killed when part of a building being demolished collapsed and trapped him underneath a heap of rubble.

Now experts have painted a damning picture of the Construction Safety standards on such projects, saying municipal inspectors are not trained technical quality assurers.

The Department of Labour’s inspectors, whose task is ensuring compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, lack the capacity and knowledge to check structural integrity of buildings, experts say.

Businesses usually pay paltry fines for accidents while criminal prosecution is almost non existent, claimed the Master Builders Association (MBA).

The association’s executive director Colin de Kock says projects are sometimes rushed, leading to building flaws.

A lot of contractors, he added, took chances because they were aware that government could not police them.

"Commitment to Health and Safety in the industry isn’t good," he says. "A vast majority of houses are built without being properly checked (to see) that they comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act."

Part of the problem, he says, is the industry’s desire to finish projects quickly to keep up with the economic growth.

"In the early 80s the building industry was facing a downward trend with fewer developments taking place but around 1999 the volume of work started increasing significantly and that is when we started seeing more accidents," De Kock explains.

As the volume of work also increases, the construction industry has also seen even more inadequately trained contractors coming into the business.

Raynard Looch, an advocate who has been specialising in Occupational Health and Safety for 20 years, said construction employers "are getting away with culpable homicide".

"Look at the Sasol accident where 11 people were killed yet the employer was only fined R50 000, suspended for five years," he says.

"These accidents happen daily but they barely get reported on."

The Department of Labour claimed the contractor of the Roodepoort building had failed to register with them.

"Failure to register or notify them is nothing," Looch said.

"The problem is lack of expertise to spot incompetency in the industry. A lot of contractors are continually cutting corners without being caught."

Source: Pretoria News
By Thabiso Thakali

Posted on: 25 October 2008

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