Tongaat Mall collapse report referred to NPA

Cape Town – Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant says her department will soon hand over a report on the Tongaat Mall Inquiry to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in KwaZulu-Natal for prosecutorial decision.

This is in relation to the Tongaat Mall collapse that claimed two lives and left 29 others injured after a cement beam collapsed during construction.

“… We have strengthened relations with the NPA in order to make sure that there is a successful prosecution on occupational health and safety cases that are referred,” the Minister said on Tuesday.

The handing over of the report to the NPA comes after a Commission of Inquiry, which concluded its probe into the collapse in December last year, found that there was technical non-compliance on the part of the team leader at the construction site on 19 November 2013.

On this day, the team leader, whom the Minister said would not be named as the matter was still sub judice, instructed the workers on site to remove the support work, or props, that were supporting the cement beam that collapsed.

The commission found that the stripping process caused an explosion on the neck of a column while employees were busy stripping. This led to swaying and as a result, the slab collapsed, crushing two employees to death.

Minister Oliphant said the non-compliance that was found also includes:

- A lack of supervision of construction work by competent persons;

- Failure to appoint a competent person to supervise construction work;

- Lack of knowledge to execute the complex interdependent structure;

- Failure to prepare work from work drawings;

- A failure to conduct and analyse concrete tube test results; and

- Poor construction method.

The commission’s report has indicated that there were contraventions to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 and the Construction Regulations of 2003.

Construction occupational hazards costly

Minister Oliphant said incidents like these were very costly both socially and economically.

She said the department has paid R490 million in the last financial year for compensations of injuries and diseases acquired in the construction industry alone.

“The economic cost and implications to workers who are injured and to the families of the deceased are immeasurable, and to them there can be no consolation and no amount of money can replace the family members who have been lost or are permanently disabled.

“Such incidents are unfortunate when they do occur as there was always the opportunity to do the work in compliance with the legislation. We believe that incidents of this nature are preventable.”

Meanwhile, the report might be handed over to the NPA in a month’s time once logistical arrangements have been finalised.

The Minister said the department has finalised the process of amending the Occupational Health and Safety Bill to make sure that loopholes are closed to avoid these incidents.

“Through offences and penalties, we have now strengthened measures that are applied in enforcing legislation. Also, we are now going to make sure that there is vicarious liability on all parties involved.

“We have to also ensure that the culprits do not just pay a fee for admission of guilt but a jail term is recommended,” she said.