Labour conducts own investigation into sites after two fatal incidents

Department of Labour to subject sites of fatalities under scrutiny � DG Lamati

The Department of Labour on 13 Sept 2018 announced it has started conducting its own investigations into two major incidents that led to the deaths of workers.

Department of Labour Director-General, Thobile Lamati, told a Media Open Day event discussing a wide range of issues in Pretoria today that those incidents that caused injury and deaths of workers require the setting up of a Section 32 inquiry.

A Section 32 inquiry is usually appointed by the Department of Labour to investigate acts of negligence that result in occupational injuries and death of workers.

The major fatal incidents that will be subjected to investigations are the blast which took place at Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (RDM) site at Macassar in the Western Cape where an explosion at munitions plant led to the deaths of eight workers. The incident happened on 03 September 2018.

The other incident is the Bank of Lisbon building that burnt down in Johannesburg, resulting in the deaths of three firefighters and the injury of eight other people. The building houses the departments of Health, Human Settlements, and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. The incident happened of 05 September 2018.

The sites of the two fatal incidents have now been handed to the Department of Labour for investigation. It is still early days to pronounce and conclude what happened, Lamati said.

Lamati said all these incidents were preventable, there is no workplace that should be prone to incidences. That is why we subscribe to ‘zero harm’ strategy. The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) of 1993 put specific responsibility on people managing establishments to adhere to health and safety in the workplaces.

The Director-General said the current legislation puts an emphasis on self-regulation. He said every workplace should have safety committees, and that people who serve in these committees should be competent.

Regarding the Johannesburg building, Lamati reiterated that the Department did inspect the building in 2017 to floors 1-10 after receiving complaints that employees were exposed to dust and hazards because of work and refurbishments done. He said inspectors issued a prohibition notice which was later revoked after concerns raised were addressed.

Lamati said the Department had challenges in terms of growing the number of inspectors. He said the Department relied on the goodwill of employers and social partners to ensure compliance with labour laws. He said another weakness in the current law (OHS) has been meagre fines imposed that even those with deep pockets budgeted for them.

He said the amended OHS Bill proposes among others that workers can run away from unsafe workplaces without being victimised, companies regularly share statistics of fatalities, and that fines are made more punitive. Lamati said inspectors would also be empowered to issue spot fines. Lamati said the vision of Department of Labour was to ensure that all government buildings are safe.

Lamati said there would be no holy cows when it comes to adherence to health and safety. He disclosed that a number of buildings have in the past including those used by the Department of Labour been closed down for not complying with OHS.

Among Department of Labour office closed by its own inspectors have been Labour Centres in Johannesburg and Durban. Some of the buildings closed and/or issued with prohibition notices recently include: army barracks, detective labs, SAPS in Kwa-Thema, SA Post Office offices, Department of Justice offices, TUT building, a Government Complex in Mpumalanga, Home Affairs in Lydenburg.

We constantly have to work with the Department of Public Works as landlord of most of these buildings. We have previously taken a stance that government will not subject its employees to bad working conditions. Every employer (public and private) has a responsibility to ensure healthy and safe working environments. We cannot accept the excuse that there is no money, he said.

Regarding the issue of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Lamati said all the processes (public engagements, Parliamentary) have been exhausted and the Bill was awaiting the signature of President Cyril Ramaphosa to become law. Lamati said the Department of Labour was ready to enforce the law and ensure that people were not paid below the prescribed minimum wage. He also said the CCMA was also ready to adjudicate over cases involving the NMW and amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Labour Relations Act.

On the recent ruling by the Labour Court on the deeming provision, he said the Department feels vindicated, when we write these laws we want them to be tested. When we put provisions in the law we were correct.

Source: Government of South Africa