Meyersdal contractor refuses to answer questions

2014-10-29 16:59
(Picture: Sapa)

(Picture: Sapa)

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Pretoria - Building contractor Errol Romburgh on Wednesday refused to answer questions at a labour department inquiry in Pretoria into the partial collapse of an Alberton house in August.

Despite repeated attempts by inquiry chairman Phumudzo Maphaha, Romburgh stuck to his guns.

"Mr Romburgh, were you the contractor involved in the collapse that we are holding an inquiry about?" Maphaha asked.

"On legal advice from my counsel I have been advised that I should exercise my constitutional right and not answer any questions at this stage," Romburgh responded.

Maphaha said the law made it obligatory for the contractor to answer, except questions that might incriminate him.

"Do you find it incriminating to answer that question?" asked Maphaha.

At that stage, Romburg's lawyer Piet Pistorius intervened.

"With the greatest respect, I must object to the commissioner directing this question to the witness. He is a lay person. He has been advised of his rights," said Pistorius.

"The commissioner cannot put to a layperson whether he thinks he is incriminating himself or not. That is a decision that has been made upon counsel's advice."

Maphaha then asked if the three witnesses before the commission on Wednesday were his employees.

Again, Romburgh said he would not answer.

Pistorius said his client would not answer any questions.

Maphaha went on to ask several questions and made numerous comments but Romburgh remained silent.

"I am putting it to you that in terms of section eight of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993, you didn't prepare a risk management for the job that you were going to do," said Maphaha.

"As such, this high-risk job you conducted, you didn't have a risk assessment. When the incident happened you didn't have a risk assessment. It will be noted that the commission afforded the contractor [an opportunity] to respond."

Employer has ‘failed’

Maphaha said the construction workers had indicated that Romburgh was their employer.

"On general duties of the employer to employees [the law says] every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employee.

"This commission, therefore, says that you have failed in the provision of this regulation. I put it to you that you have failed to provide a working environment that is safe and without risk," said Maphaha.

The inquiry is probing the collapse of part of a luxury house in the Meyersdal Eco Estate, near Alberton on the East Rand, in which seven people were killed on 18 August. Nine other workers were injured.

Maphaha said Romburgh had also failed to inform the labour department about the construction, as required by law.

The contractor remained silent and Maphaha said he would make his recommendations to the National Prosecuting Authority.

Earlier, three workers briefly testified at the inquiry.

Collins Mohale, who survived the collapse, said he could not remember what happened on 18 August.

"I do not remember what happened. I just woke up in hospital," said.

Mohale's colleague Patrick Mahlomola Moremi said he also could not remember what happened.

"Everything happened so fast, I am not sure about what happened. I didn't see anything," he said.

Moremi had worked for the construction company for eight years.

He said he had never undergone health and safety training. He also had not been medically checked for fitness to do construction work.

Sandile Mabuza said, like his colleagues, he had also never been medically checked for fitness to do the work.

He had been employed by the contractor for two years.

"I started work in June 2012. I had never been taken in for any training on occupation health and safety," Mabuza said.

"On the day of the accident, I can't tell you what exactly happened. The scaffolding came down and covered me then the slab fell. I just saw myself in hospital."

Mabuza said he was pulled out of the rubble after around three hours.

The inquiry resumes on Thursday.

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