The Gauteng provincial government has established a high-level occupational health and safety steering committee to oversee the evacuation and relocation of government officials from non-compliant buildings to more suitable structures.
The provincial government made the announcement on Friday following the fire that engulfed the Bank of Lisbon building in the Johannesburg CBD. The building housed the health and human settlements departments.
“The function of this committee comes into effect today [Friday]. The priority assignment will be to oversee the evacuation of officials from the non-compliant building and to relocate them to suitable buildings.
“This is meant to address the current practice where there is no central coordination to oversee compliance. It will change the current practice where occupation safety is not centrally supported but left to accounting officers, considering that it is apparent that the practice is not working efficiently,” said the provincial government in a statement.
The committee will be chaired by infrastructure development MEC Jacob Mamabolo and will be constituted by heads of departments. It will be in line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which highlights safety as a key responsibility.
The centralisation of the function is intended to ensure coordination and oversight for full enforcement of safety regulations in all the departments. The immediate task of the committee is to stabilise the building safety environment in the province following the fire in the Johannesburg CBD.
According to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, the building that went up in flames in the Joburg city centre on Wednesday had been identified as a fire hazard years ago – but the union reps who reported it were dismissed.
“As a union we have been consistently raising about the defects in the building since 2014,” Nehawu’s Gauteng provincial secretary Tshepo Mokheranyana said.
Three firefighters were killed while battling the blaze that engulfed the 23rd floor of the building occupied by the Gauteng departments of health and human settlements.
The fire has also affected students who reside adjacent to the burning building.
University of Johannesburg students who live in City Waldorf student accommodation were evacuated to a military base in Pretoria on Thursday until the building is deemed safe for occupation.
The fire was eventually contained on Thursday with the assistance of the Tshwane Fire Department.
Mamabolo promised on Friday that heads would roll if investigations find that negligence played a role in the deadly fire.