The inquiry into the Grayston bridge collapse has revealed shocking short cuts being taken by construction companies
South Africa’s building-industry code could be set for major changes following damning evidence of a cowboy culture and unprofessional practices that emerged during a probe into the collapse of a temporary structure over a highway in Johannesburg.
This week, at the inquiry in Pretoria, witnesses for construction company Murray & Roberts told commissioner Lennie Samuel about gaps in building law standards and practices, such as starting construction when building plans were still incomplete.
“We will make recommendations for legislation or amendments where there are gaps [to ensure] the health and safety of workers,” Samuel told City Press.
Earlier this month at the inquiry, Professor Roelf Mostert‚ head of the University of Pretoria’s Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering Department, said certain suggestions by Australian engineering firm Amog, which investigated the matter for scaffolding supplier Form-Scaff, were not industry standards in South Africa.
However, Samuel had Mostert concede that the local construction industry should keep up with international construction standards.
Three Murray & Roberts witnesses have so far this month argued that the collapse, which killed two people and injured 19 next to the Grayston Drive offramp near Sandton in October last year, was triggered by a gust of wind, resulting in the collapse of a temporary structure that wasn’t stiff and strong enough.
The company also argued that the design used by Form-Scaff was inadequate.
Richard Snowden, director of special projects at professional services firm Arup, and Murray & Roberts’ third witness, argued that the structure should have been built to withstand a wind speed of at least 35 metres per second.
A wind speed of 10.1 metres per second had been recorded at 3.19pm on the day, six minutes before the crash. The company said its calculations showed a wind speed of 12 metres per second could have knocked the structure over.
“Fundamentally, the structure had been slightly weakened during the day,” Snowden said.
Form-Scaff, which has denied the charge, will present its version of events on Tuesday.
In total, the inquiry expects to hear from 23 witnesses from Murray & Roberts, Form-Scaff, engineers Royal HaskoningDHV, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) – the project owner – and Nemai Consulting, health and safety advisers to the JDA. Fourteen of the witnesses will be from Murray & Roberts, the majority of them company workers.
Samuel, a 30-year veteran at the department of labour, is a forensic investigator and was a co-commissioner of the inquiry into the Tongaat Mall collapse in Durban in 2013.
He said the inquiry was likely to conclude its work in September and that the report would be sent to the National Prosecuting Authority if there was evidence of wrongdoing.
“But we will also see if there any gaps in the legislation or lessons to be learnt for the industry,” he said.
Another gap identified this week was the absence of regulations on the construction of what is known in the industry as false works – temporary structures that are built while construction is under way, like the collapsed bridge.
Also, in many cases where there was no industry code, builders used the British standard and this needed to be rectified, the inquiry heard.
Richard Beneke, a civil engineer with 40 years of experience, told the inquiry that although the drawings for the M1 project had not been signed off, there was enough information to begin building.
It was standard practice, he said, to start construction with what was available, if adequate, because “construction would otherwise be delayed”.
Beneke, appearing as a Murray & Roberts expert witness, said Form-Scaff had not provided the document with the sequence for the construction of the bridge, as was standard practice. This was vital in ensuring the safety of the structure and ensuring the bridge was completed in time and on budget.
Cross-examined by Willem le Roux, the JDA’s legal representative, Beneke said, based on the photos he had seen, he would have been concerned about the safety of the structure.
“The majority of the remaining quick-stage components were not in place,” he said, adding that the structure also “had grossly insufficient lateral sway”.
Beneke’s testimony was backed by Snowden, who investigated the cause of the collapse on behalf of Murray & Roberts. Snowden said he had seen no wind calculations in Form-Scaff’s drawings and there was no indication that the drawings were incomplete.
Beneke testified that he had identified 61 structural risk deficiencies in the drawings and said that Form-Scaff’s design and drawings had “unsatisfactory aspects”.
He was concerned that the design drawings might not have adequately communicated the requirements for the scaffolding setup.
The design had “geometric errors”, including that the scaffolding setup would have seen it leaning south.
“The Form-Scaff drawings are open to interpretation … the Form-Scaff drawings don’t contain enough information,” Beneke said.
Advocate Ewan Rudolph, legal counsel for Form-Scaff, argued that the drawings were sufficient and had been derived using a superior model developed by Amog.
The companies’ legal experts will meet shortly to discuss the models, and a presentation to the commission is scheduled for next week.
There were heated exchanges on Friday morning between Samuel and Murray & Roberts’ legal representative Sias Reinecke, with the commissioner accusing Reinecke of disrespecting the inquiry after calling Samuel’s suggestion that the parties present their models as “the worst decision”.
The inquiry has been adjourned until Tuesday.
The contract for the construction of the Grayston pedestrian bridge was worth R130 million over two years.
Sourse: city-press.news24.com 2016/07/18
“Workplace Stress: a collective challenge”
is the theme of the campaign of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
Why workplace stress is a collective challenge and what to do about it
As the world marks World Day for Safety and Health at Work, Valentina Forastieri Senior Specialist, Occupational Health, Health Promotion and Well-being for the ILO, outlines the findings of the latest research on the impact of stress in the workplace.
The relationship between workplace stress and poor mental health is well established. In the ILO’s recent publication, Workplace Stress: A Collective Challenge , the ILO’s Safety and Health at Work team surveyed the most recent studies on workplace stress from around the world including, among others, Asia and the Pacific, the Americas, Australia and Europe. They found that work related stress costs global society untold billions in direct and indirect costs annually. And that is quite apart from the human price paid in misery, suffering and even, according to some of the reports we looked at, in suicide.
Growing pressure at work
We often hear we live increasingly stressful working lives but what does recent experience tell us?
Well, let’s begin with globalization. Global competitive processes have transformed work organization, working relations and employment patterns, contributing to the increase of work-related stress and its associated disorders. With the pace of work dictated by instant communications and high levels of global competition, the lines separating work from life are becoming more and more difficult to identify. An appropriate balance between work and private life is difficult to achieve.
And the phenomenon is indeed global in its impact.
For instance, we note a study from Japan that found 32.4 per cent of workers reported suffering from strong anxiety, worry and stress from work in the previous year. In Chile, 2011 data shows 27.9 per cent of workers and 13.8 per cent of employers reported that stress and depression were present in their enterprises. Similar figures were found in practically every country we considered for this report.
And then, there is the hangover from the recent global economic crisis and recession that forced many enterprises to scale down their economic activity in order to remain competitive. This includes an increase in restructuring, downsizing, merging, outsourcing and subcontracting, precarious work and a higher likelihood of massive layoffs of workers, unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.
These working practices are a source of what is known in the field as “psychosocial hazards”. Within the workplace they contributed to increased competition, higher expectations as regards performance, fast-paced and intensive work, irregular and longer working hours, higher job demands and job insecurity and a lack of control over the content and organization of work and reduced work opportunities. Add to that the fear of losing their jobs, reduced motivation of staff, decreased satisfaction and creativity, and decreased financial stability and you end up with serious consequences for workers’ mental health and wellbeing, with a significant financial bottom line.
These related direct and indirect costs are only beginning to be quantified. Still, some developed countries assess the economic impact of work-related stress, associated behavioural patterns and mental health disorders. For example, in Europe the estimated cost of work-related depression is €617 billion a year, which includes the costs to employers of absenteeism and presenteeism (€272 billion), loss of productivity (€242 billion), healthcare costs (€63 billion) and social welfare costs in the form of disability benefit payments (€39 billion).
Lifting the Burden
What measures can we take to reduce the toll of workplace stress on our societies and businesses?
Here are five ideas that we believe can have a profound impact:
- Continued focus. Awareness on these issues is growing. In most countries policymakers and social partners have become involved in concrete interventions to tackle psychosocial hazards, which are the causes of work-related stress. Social partners have been active, awareness raising campaigns have proliferated and many research networks and professional associations have become involved.
- Prevention. The protection of mental health at work has more impact if it focuses on preventive strategies. It is essential to handle the causes and the consequences of work-related stress with a combination of both collective and individual measures.
- Inclusion. Greater opportunities for participating in decision-making are associated with greater satisfaction and a higher feeling of self-esteem. In the long-term, even small amounts of autonomy in the execution of tasks are beneficial for the mental health and productivity of workers. Participation in decision-making in the workplace moderates the effects of psychosocial hazards such as job demands and leads to reduced psychological strain.
- Management. A comprehensive OSH management system would ensure improved preventive practices and incorporation of health promotion measures. This should include psychosocial risks in risk assessment and management measures with a view to effectively managing their impact in the same way as with other OSH risks in the workplace. Workers’ participation in this process is crucial.
- Organizational Culture: ILO experience shows the importance of the social environment in shaping work behaviours and valuing them; human resource policies play a role in ensuring working relationships based on trust, authenticity and partnership.
Today workers all over the world are facing significant changes in work organization and labour relations; they are under greater pressure to meet the demands of modern working life. For our health, our wellbeing and our livelihoods we must continue work collectively to reduce the impact of stress in the workplace.