Antoinette Slabbert
4 minute read
11 May 2017
7:55 am

So what if a bridge collapses on the M1?

Antoinette Slabbert

Inquiry stalls without any apparent reason.

Parties close to the Department of Labour’s inquiry into the collapse of the temporary works structure onto the M1 freeway in Sandton in October 2015, and the family of at least one of the deceased, are concerned about unexplained delays.

Legal teams have made a proposal to the department on the way forward, in an effort to prevent a situation where the inquiry will only proceed next year.

Evidence was last heard in August last year.

Two people were killed and 19 injured when a temporary works structure collapsed onto the busy freeway on October 14, 2015. The construction work was done without interrupting the traffic and the scaffolding fell onto vehicles that were travelling underneath in mid-afternoon traffic.

Read: Design, drawings for collapsed M1 bridge scrutinised

The Department of Labour set up a Section 32 inquiry in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to determine with a mandate to investigate among other things:

  •        The responsibility of the client in terms of construction regulations;
  •         The responsibility of the principal constructor in terms of the construction regulations and as an employer;
  •         The responsibility of the agent on behalf of the client in terms of the same regulations;
  •         Supplier of materials and design.

The parties before the inquiry are Murray & Roberts as principle contractor and material supplier, their client the Johannesburg Development Agency, the JDA’s agent Royal HaskoningDHV and From-Scaff, the supplier of some of the scaffolding.

These parties as well as their workers and trade unions are expected to testify, the department said in an earlier statement.

So far four witnesses have testified on behalf of Murray & Roberts. The hearings were postponed on August 29 last year to give Form-Scaff expert witness Gary Farrow, a mechanical engineer from Australia, more time to respond to questions that were put to him on short notice.

It was scheduled to resume on March 27, but the department said in a statement issued on March 14 that it was postponed until May 4 “due to technical challenges affecting the proceedings”.

Read: M1/Grayston Drive inquiry postponed to May

The hearings were supposed to run from May 4 to June 9.

On May 2, two days before the hearings were set to resume, the department could not tell Moneyweb whether they would go ahead.

It in fact did not proceed and the department failed to respond to Moneyweb about the reasons for the postponement.

Three different parties spoke to Moneyweb about their concern that further sittings might be impossible this year, since it has become very difficult to coordinate the diaries of all the different legal teams, including at least 12 senior counsel and attorneys.

“We have reserved the dates agreed upon in the diaries of our legal teams. The department is not using it and some legal teams have indicated that they will only be available again next year,” one of the parties told Moneyweb on condition of anonymity.

The parties confirmed that they have not been given any reason for the delay. They have agreed upon a way to expedite the inquiry by exchange of papers, but admit that that will detract from the public nature of the inquiry.

The parties are currently waiting for feedback from the department.

JDA executive director for transport Lisa Seftel, said the ongoing delay is disappointing.

She says that from the beginning, the City of Joburg did everything possible to establish who was responsible for the collapse and to hold them accountable, but the delays are making it impossible.

She said two people died and many were injured. The inquiry is important for those affected to get closure and to understand what happened.

Attorney Hlengiwe Majozi from Bophela and Majozi attorneys that represents the family of Siyabonga Myeni, who died in the incident, said her clients suffered a great loss. Myeni was a breadwinner who provided for five children as well as his mother. “They are facing great financial difficulty and any delays have an adverse impact on especially the minor children,” she says.

Majozi says the family is also concerned that the inquiry might not be completed before the family’s civil claim for damages prescribes three years after the event.

Attorney Willem le Roux, director of ENSafrica who represents the JDA and specialises in mine and occupational health and safety matters, says the slow pace of the inquiry by the department in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act is in sharp contrast with inquiries by the Department of Mineral Resources following mining accidents.

He says mining accidents are dealt with in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act and the department deals with it speedily in order to determine the causes of the accident and determine remedial measures. Such an inquiry record assists injured persons and dependents of deceased persons to claim damages.

Brought to you by Moneyweb