An inquiry has been launched into the circumstances surrounding a fire at a Pietermaritzburg bakery in which seven employees suffered smoke inhalation, allegedly as a result of having been locked into the premises on Saturday night without access to an emergency exit as required by the South African Health and Safety Act.
The fire is believed to have broken out at Kajal’s Bakery at about 11.30 pm.
When The Witness arrived at the scene shortly after midnight, it was told that 16 men had been trapped in the building during the fire at the bakery in Birmingham Road in Eastwood.
The victims are alleged to be Malawian nationals who were locked into the bakery and could not get out when the fire started.
Patrons at a nearby tavern who were partying until late on Saturday night alerted the Pietermaritzburg fire brigade which forced open the doors and extinguished the blaze.
The bakery was extensively damaged.
A spokesman for the fire department said yesterday that the cause of the fire is still being investigated.
Some tavern patrons told The Witness that they heard screams coming from the bakery and saw smoke billowing from it.
They tried desperately, but in vain, to break down the strong doors until the firemen arrived and broke open the doors to let out the trapped men.
No serious injuries were reported, but most of the men appeared to be suffering from breathing problems and others sustained minor injuries in their desperate efforts to get out the burning building.
Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram confirmed the incident and said the police and Labour Department will conduct a joint inquiry into the matter.
In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, it is against the law for employees of any business to be locked inside for any reason without access to an emergency exit.
Budhram confirmed that the doors were forced open and said seven people were taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation.
“At this stage an investigation is under way to determine all the facts,” he said. No doubt that the establishment’s Health and Safety practices will receive their attention.
Source: The Witness
By: Ingrid Oellermann and Shan Pillay
Posted: 2 November 2008