Who’s to blame for Grayston bridge collapse?

AFTERMATH Emergency personnel at the scene after the collapse of a temporary pedestrian bridge next to Grayston Drive on the M1 highway on October 14 last year. Picture: Denzel Maregele
AFTERMATH Emergency personnel at the scene after the collapse of a temporary pedestrian bridge next to Grayston Drive on the M1 highway on October 14 last year. Picture: Denzel Maregele

Murray & Roberts and Form-Scaff are playing the blame game over who is responsible for the collapse of the Grayston pedestrian bridge last year, writes Thekiso Lefifi

It was all about shifting the blame at an inquiry held this week into the fatal collapse of the temporary bridge structure at the M1 Grayston Drive pedestrian bridge in Sandton in October last year.

The expert-witness report presented by construction firm Murray & Roberts (M&R) blamed the disaster on subcontractor and scaffolding supplier Form-Scaff.

Professor Roelf Mostert‚ head of the University of Pretoria’s Materials Science and Metallurgical Engineering Department, conducted an investigation into the collapse of the temporary bridge. Two people died and 19 were injured during the collapse.

Mostert’s report disputed findings by Australian engineering firm Amog, which specialises in collapse analysis and investigated the matter on behalf of Form-Scaff.

The Amog report blames M&R by concluding that the JSE-listed construction company’s staff failed to properly tighten the couplers, which are partly used to connect and support a structure.

The report claimed that if they had been properly tightened, the temporary bridge would have been strong enough to withstand the force of the wind, which partly caused the collapse.

The inquiry is being held at the offices of the department of labour in Pretoria and is headed by commissioner Lennie Samuel‚ a departmental forensic investigator and co-commissioner in the inquiry into the collapse of the Tongaat Mall in Durban in 2013.

Samuel listened intently as Mostert rubbished Amog’s report, emphasising that certain suggestions in the report were not industry standards in South Africa.

For example, Mostert claimed it was accepted practice in the local construction industry to tighten such couplers with a scaffolding spanner with no regard to the level of tightness.

Mostert said M&R was not given proper instructions in this regard.

He said his findings were based on laboratory testing done at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria, with couplers that were visually similar to those he observed on site.

Then Samuel turned up the heat on Mostert, much to the delight of Form-Scaff representatives, who were seen smiling and whispering to one another before animatedly shaking their heads in disapproval as Mostert seemed to struggle with some questions.

Mostert revealed that he tested only 20 couplers and, when pressed by Samuel, admitted that that was not enough of a representation to conclude his investigation.

He also couldn’t say whether the samples he tested were from Form-Scaff.

Samuel poked holes in Mostert’s testimony, in which he assumed that certain couplers had been used repeatedly prior to being used on the Grayston bridge.

Mostert conceded that the South African construction industry should keep up with international standards by saying: “I do not see any problem with that. It is something we should consider.”

Other interested role players and witnesses who are expected to testify during the inquiry include engineers, the City of Johannesburg, the Johannesburg Development Agency, Royal HaskoningDHV, Form-Scaff, the Engineering Council of SA and the National Union of Mineworkers.

The inquiry is set to continue from tomorrow until Friday next week.

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July 2020

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