Grayston Drive Bridge

The construction world is collapsing

In the previous issue of ProjectPro eNews we reported on the collapse of a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, killing over 100 people.

This month the temporary works for a pedestrian bridge over the busy M1 highway in Sandton, Johannesburg collapsed killing 2 people, injuring 19 others with 3 still critical in hospital. Both lanes of the M1 had to be closed for nearly 24 hours causing massive traffic jams.

Murray & Roberts, one of South Africa’s leading contractors is the principal contractor for constructing the bridge near the Grayston drive interchange. The client is the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Development Agency indicated that they have appointed Royal Haskoning DHV as their agent. The supplier of material involved in the incident is Formscaff, but there appears to be confusion over who provided the design: Formscaff or KwikStage.

Henry Laas, group chief executive of Murray & Roberts, confirmed that cranes had been working non-stop to clear the debris. “We still do not know the cause of this but I want to assure you, we will do everything in our power to establish what caused this incident,” he said.

In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, the Department of Labour (DOL) has a responsibility to investigate incidents of this nature. In terms of the information gathered the Chief Inspector has taken a decision to conduct a formal inquiry in terms of section 32 of the OHS Act. The formal inquiry will focus on, but not limited to, the following:

  • The responsibility of the client in terms of construction regulations
  • Responsibility of the principal constructor in terms of the construction regulations and as an employer
  • The responsibility of the agent on behalf of the client in terms of the same regulations
  • Supplier of materials
  • Design

Once the DOL has carried out the inquiry to determine the cause of the accident, they will make recommendations to the NPA Director of Public Prosecutions if anyone should be prosecuted. The DOL inquiries often take years to finalise, but the Chief Inspector hopes to complete this one in 6 months. Murray & Roberts will carry out their own internal investigation and has hired two independent consultants to determine the cause of the accident.

“We cannot say what the cause was at this stage. We have heard talks about winds, a truck smashing into the scaffolding and now theft of scaffolding. We cannot speculate. We will have to wait for the outcome of the investigation, which could take months,” said Laas.

The DOL held a media briefing on 28 October which promised to unveil their preliminary report on the disaster. If the massive media audience expected to hear what may have caused the collapse, they were disappointed. The briefing merely explained the inquiry process.

Although buildings regularly collapse in South Africa the last major bridge collapse was the Injaka Bridge in Mpumalanga in 1998, killing 14 people and injuring 19 others. That DOL inquiry took nearly 4 years to finalise.

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