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Tongaat disaster highlights the importance of investigating incidents properly

by , 20 November 2013
Rescue efforts are still continuing in Tongaat, north of Durban. This after a mall being built collapsed yesterday. The latest report by Eye Witness News suggests that at least one person has been confirmed dead and 29 others are being treated in hospital. Rescue teams are combing the scene for people who may be trapped under the rubble. This tragic accident has cast the spotlight on the importance of investigating accidents. Here's what you need to know...

In the latest development regarding the Tongaat disaster, the Department of Labour has sent a delegation of inspectors to the scene of a collapsed building which was being constructed in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal, Eye Witness News reports.

A new twist to the disaster is that it's alleged the company responsible for the construction has had a history of shoddy workmanship.

According to the report, in 2009, Gralio Construction owner Jay Singh was convicted of bribing an eThekwini municipal official to overlook sub-standard building. Last year, Gralio was identified in a damning report for irregularly being awarded two low-cost housing projects worth tens of millions of rands.

More than 20 units of the project, the costs of which soared from R70 million to R350 million, had to be demolished when residents complained of walls giving way when pushed.

Despite this track record, just two weeks ago, the ANC in the eThekwini council used its majority vote to extend Gralio's contract at the city's flagship housing project, says the Eye Witness News report.

Now, disaster has struck!

If these reports are true it's highly unlikely that incident investigating took place at the construction site. And perhaps the disaster could have been avoided.

Here's why investigating incidents is important

According to the Health & Safety Advisor, you must follow a logical process when an incident happens in your workplace.


If you don't investigate incidents and implement corrective and preventive action you're at risk of more severe incidents occurring, including fatalities.

This is the situation the company implicated in the Tongaat disaster currently finds itself in.

Not investigating incidents isn't just costly for your company, but it could result in criminal prosecution.

Is there a way to avoid this?


You can set up an incident investigation team.

Here's how to establish an incident investigation team

  • Set up a core incident investigation team you can call upon should an incident occur. Another option is to select a team when a specific incident has occurred.
  • Depending on the severity of the incident, your incident investigation team must have the technical knowledge and skills required to conduct a thorough investigation.
  • Everyone on the team must be trained as incident investigators. Regardless of whether you decide to do the training in-house or externally (by an external training provider), the training must be aligned to the Unit Standards published by the South African Qualifications Authority.
  • It's a legal requirement for these three people to be involved in the incident investigation:
  1. Any person appointed by you (the employer)
  2. A Health and Safety officer
  3. A member of the Health and Safety Committee

The Advisor adds that you must also establish an incident investigation team hierarchy.

This means:

  • For 'Near misses' the team may be the Supervisor and the Health and Safety representative for that area.
  • For 'Property damage' you may add the Health and Safety Manager to the team.
  • For 'Serious' incidents where there was lost time, your team should include the:
  1. Health and Safety Manager;
  2. Operations or Section Manager;
  3. Immediate Supervisor; and
  4. Health and Safety officer.
  5. A union representative for the sake of transparency and good governance.

Remember, if you don't investigate incidents. They could lead to fatal accidents like the one playing out in Tongaat. Now that you know the importance of investigating incidents, make sure you comply.

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