M1 bridge collapse inquiry postponed to 2017

Contractor Murray & Roberts has 72 questions for an engineering expert witness.
Contractor Murray & Roberts has 72 questions for an engineering expert witness.

The Department of Labour has postponed the M1 bridge collapse inquiry to 2017, after the contractor bombarded an engineering witness.

DOL inquiry presiding officer, Lennie Samuel, dismissed the sitting of the commission in August, after an unexpected “request by the contractor Murray & Roberts for additional information from an expert witness from Australia, who represents Form-Scaff”.

Gary Farrow, a mechanical engineer from Australia, was in Melbourne and unable to come to South Africa, because Murray & Roberts had requested additional information, which the witness could not deliver in time before the sitting.

Murray & Roberts had sent a list of 72 questions to Farrow a week before the scheduled sitting, and the inquiry said that it was too short a time for him to respond, and to appear.

“We could not contact other witnesses in time to appear before the commission. We did not want to prejudice the Form-Scaff witness by intense interrogation without time to prepare,” Samuel said.

Sittings schedules for seven consecutive workdays were postponed. There are 26 witnesses, of which only five have been cross-examined.

Some of the stakeholders in the Inquiry are Murray & Roberts, the City of Johannesburg, the Johannesburg Roads Agency, Form-Scaff, workers, and unions.

Samuel had “asked affected parties to commit to time schedules… to submit statements and reports”.

The M1 /Grayston Drive Pedestrian and cyclist structural bridge collapse Inquiry was announced by the Department of Labour in October last year, after the death of two people, and the injury of 19 others; set for six months.

However, delays were caused by late submission of statements and reports; and non-availability of legal representatives.

The DOL said “the next sitting of the inquiry is pencilled for 27-31 March 2017… for at least 21 days.”

Samuel is assisted by Lesibe Raphela. The Section 32 investigation is being held in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.

Contractor bombards witness with allegations

Farrow had earlier said he had limited access to contracts between Form-Scaff and Murray & Roberts, but his analysis of the fatal site disproves insinuations that he was biased in favour of his employer.

Farrow told the inquiry that he had spent nine days on the site of the collapsed temporary structure to gather information.

He also told the commission that while he had never worked on, or with, temporary structures, he had been involved in other large projects.

He said in addition to visiting the site on numerous occasions, he also relied on information obtained from Form-Scaff and on interactions with the company’s personnel. He had prioritised critical information which carried value to his work.

“My mandate was configuration of the temporary structure, and to ascertain the causes of collapse.” He is a principal assistant to the Commission.

Form-Scaff was the supplier of scaffolding material in the temporary structure construction in the M1 /Grayston Drive project.

Source: Department of Labour.

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