Tongaat mall: Workers instructed to keep working

2014-02-12 20:29
Rescue workers at the site of a collapsed mall construction site in Tongaat. (Giordano Stolley, Sapa)

Rescue workers at the site of a collapsed mall construction site in Tongaat. (Giordano Stolley, Sapa)

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Durban - A slab of concrete at the ill-fated Tongaat mall sagged in the days leading up to a collapse that claimed two lives and injured 29 others, an inquiry heard in Durban on Wednesday.

Ronnie Pillay, a foreman at Gralio Precast, told the labour department inquiry investigating the collapse that one of the slabs at the mall sagged by 70mm.

The inquiry is chaired by the department's occupational health and safety manager Phumudzo Maphaha.

Pillay said the area that ultimately collapsed was to the right of the sagging slab.

"When the foreman brought it to my attention, I stopped work immediately."

He said he then contacted the engineer Andre Ballack and informed him of the problem. He also contacted Gralio owner Jay Singh.

"I told him we have got a serious problem," said Pillay, who admitted he had no formal qualifications.

Pillay said ultimately the instruction was to build two beams under the sagging slab.

Shaft plans altered

He believed that had the supporting columns been bigger the collapse would have been averted and had raised his concerns with Singh. He was later advised these were sufficient.

He had also raised concerns over the design of the lift shaft. These, he said had been accepted and the plans for the shaft were accordingly altered.

Pillay said the slabs had been poured at least 21 days before the scaffolding was removed. He believed the time for the concrete to cure was more than sufficient.

On the day of the collapse, 19 November 2013, scaffolding was being removed. He was on the edge of the slab when "I heard a deep sound".

"Within seconds the entire slab started caving in a hole. I saw it coming towards me."

Two supervisors who were with him fled in the opposite direction.

"I jumped three metres down onto the mezzanine slab. That's how I escaped the fall."

He said he ran through the mall and down to the bottom where he saw many injured workers.

Instructed to keep working

Asked if he was aware that the results of tests conducted on the concrete since the accident had revealed widely varying degrees of strength, he said he had "heard" about the tests.

He said work had been stopped at the site, but an instruction had been given for his team to complete their work.

"I was instructed to carry on working. We were working to finish up the areas we hadn't completed," he said.

He was aware that the company had been fined for building without permission from the eThekwini Metro municipality, but he was not aware of who had paid the admission of guilt fine.

Prashalen Gounder, the brickworks supervisor, said on the day of the accident he was not aware of the safety officer being present.

He had raised concerns with the architect over 10m walls that were built without any support.

The plans were altered to include support for the wall, but it was not the only time that the architect had changed his plans.

"In a space of three months there were 10 different revisions [to the plans]," said Gounder.

The inquiry continues on Thursday.

Read more on:    durban  |  tongaat mall collapse

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