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Health and safety in the construction sector a collective responsibility - warns Deputy Labour Minister, Inkosi Holomisa

by Lloyd Ramutloa last modified 2017-03-10 15:26


South Africa’s Deputy Labour Minister, iNkosi Phathekile Holomisa told a Construction Seminar that the unsafe practices and conditions at construction workplaces, very seldom happen by chance.   

Deputy Minister said: “We can never be too careful when we deal with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) issues in the Construction Sector, or any other sector for that matter”. 

Holomisa was addressing a Construction Sector Seminar in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, which ended today on the theme: “Collective responsibility for construction health and safety”. He said things can never be left to chance or past experience. “And so it is that inspectors come across those construction sites where they find employers who are oblivious to health and safety and, therefore, their own health and safety and that of those around them”.  

The Deputy Minister cautioned that the construction industry needed to modernize while at the same time take cognizance of occupational health and safety concerns. He said industries are becoming more and more automated, “fewer and fewer workers are required to do the work that traditionally had many workers. 

“We, however, remain stuck between two worlds; a few countries engaging in construction use very smart, high tech materials with which to build and use high tech equipment. High tech equipment will require the appropriate skills sets to operate. Today you still have, on most construction sites, a situation where you build level by level with curing of decks still factored in,” he said. 

According to Holomisa, the green economy has arrived, further changing the traditional way in which “we thought of construction, from cradle to grave. This has created new opportunities on the one hand while at the same time, changing the nature of the work  in other areas”. He said a 57-storey building going up in 19 days was about to become a common feature as has happened in China, “This is unheard of and unparalleled anywhere else”.    

“This however, marks a change in the way traditional construction companies have done their business up until now, and the way they will conduct their business in future. Competition is global and no longer local. Margins are smaller and project timeframes tighter. Semi-completed structures are already becoming occupied long before the last tasks are completed,” Holomisa said.  

A couple of days ago there was another construction incident, this time at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital and prior to that the Deputy Minister also listed other construction related incidents: June 2015 – roof collapses in Sandton City; October 2015 – Bryanston Bridge collapse in Grayston; January 2017 – Sandton roof collapse and the list goes on … ie. Injaka bridge collapse; Coega bridge collapse; partial collapse of Tongaat Mall; Pretoria North Mall collapse; Investec Scaffold collapse; etc.

“These incidents, of course, beg the question, ‘what lessons are we not learning’, as hundreds of thousands of construction workers make their way each day to work in one of the most treacherous environments. This question comes as we lose at least two workers in a week on average to construction related incidents,” said Holomisa.

As the environment in which the construction sector evolves, have we adequately prepared ourselves to meet the future that is unfolding before us?  asked the Deputy Minister.

Holomisa said the Department, as government, its duty was to see to it that findings and recommendations that are made in reports are followed through precisely to curb such incidents. Construction Health and Safety remain the responsibility of every single person engaged in that activity, he concluded.

Issued by:

Department of Labour spokesperson

Teboho Thejane

082 697 0694

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