The former managing director of Paarl Print has admitted that he knew 12 of the 200 smoke detectors at the company’s factory were faulty.
Mike Ehret was testifying at a Department of Labour inquiry into the fire at Paarl Print that also killed 13 workers.
He insists he had given the instruction for them to be replaced before a fire razed the building in April last year.
Armed response company ADT warned Paarl Post that 12 of the fire detectors were not operational and the factory was at risk if a fire were to break out in that pre-production area.
The system was not functional following a previous fire at Paarl Print in December 2008.
Incompetent Health and Safety Consultant?
Ehret was put under pressure by Cosatu-appointed human rights lawyer Richard Spoor during Monday’s leg of the inquiry.
The former MD, who is now an executive director at the Paarl Media Group, said a risk assessment of Paarl Print’s storeroom did not identify fire as a possibility there even though it was not fire-proofed.
Under intense questioning from Spoor, Ehret acknowledged that he was not in position to assess the competency of a consultant, hired by the company to oversee the health and safety portfolio or to sign off on the November 2008 risk assessment of the storeroom.
“The only risk identified is the operation of a guillotine; fire was not identified as a risk even though building regulations have special requirements for stores because of the risk of fires in stores. It has to be fireproof,” Spoor said.
His line of questioning was aimed at proving that the person who undertook the assessment was not competent and had not possessed the requisite knowledge – but that Ehret had signed off on the assessment.
Health and Safety Appointments
Spoor also questioned why there were three people responsible for health and safety and why he had not formally, in writing, delegated the portfolio as required by law.
Spoor put it to him that without a written delegation, factory manager Frans Rossouw and his subordinate Neil van Niekerk had overlapping health and safety responsibilities which would make it difficult to determine who shouldered responsibility when things went wrong.
Spoor said it was not clear who took responsibility for the smoke ventilation system, the lack of a sprinkler system and fire regulation compliance.
Long silences greeted a number of Spoor’s questions as to how competent Rossouw and Van Niekerk were to shoulder the responsibility of health and safety, with Ehret eventually either answering that the two were competent or that he relied on them to provide him with information.
Was a functional Health and Safety program in place?
During the first part of the hearing, held at the Boland Cricket Stadium in Paarl last month, it emerged that the alarm system had been switched off days before the devastating fire.
Evidence was also led that there were no sprinklers installed even though these had featured on the plans submitted to the municipality.
Yesterday it also emerged that a number of documents which could have assisted in the inquiry had been destroyed in the blaze.
Source: Cape Argus