SA Labour view on construction safety statistics

SA Department of Labour construction safety statistics were detailed in the director general’s address at the Construction HS Accord in 2012.

SA DOL DG Nkosinathi Nhleko’s address was read on his behalf by a deputy DG, at the Construction Health and Safety Accord signing in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, August 24, 2012. The text follows below.

Over the last several years our country has had the wonderful opportunity where it was able to witness South Africans gaining skills in the construction sector and in the main those skills would also be put to good use over time within those areas in which they resided.

Over the years the Department has also been able to work on numerous projects with its most valuable stakeholders within the construction sector and has jointly seen the construction move in the right direction in terms of the Construction Regulations promulgated in 2003.

Some of the highlights include: an increase in the visibility of edge protection; greater use of shoring and bracing and the like; scaffolding that is more compliant with the required standards and I can relate many more such positive changes that you have sought to change in the interest of healthier and safer construction sites. It is this effort to date, that makes me proud to be standing in front of you.

There is change taking place and we have all been part of it!

Today though, marks the on-going collaborative effort by the Department of Labour’s inspectorate and you, our stakeholders in the Construction sector to tackle challenges of non-compliance with Occupational Health and Safety in the Construction Sector.

The challenge that we face as Government and key Stakeholders remains to reduce the number of non-compliance by the sector in our country. Our focus therefore should be that we address the fact that at least one Construction Worker dies every week on a construction site as a direct result of non compliance either by the Client and/or Contractor.

The construction industry contributes to some extent overall to the South African economy and to a greater degree to employment. The output from the construction industry is an integral part of the national output, albeit that it has been relatively subdued in relation to its overall contribution to the GDP over the last several years.

Construction nevertheless, is seen as an investment into the future of every economy and is therefore a vital concern for the state of every nation even though it is prone to the global and national economic cycles as has been quite noticeable over the last couple of years.

The resultant or consequential impact is mediocre growth that influences what happens on the ground. Companies worry about “bread and butter issues” and key aspects such as health and safety tend to suffer during these dire periods.

Some companies are inundated with work, while others struggle to eke out a survival until the next cycle arrives. Of course the down cycle and the duration thereof will determine how well the sector recovers when the up cycle arrives. It should be noted though that this cyclical nature that has affected the construction sector is not foreign to other sectors within the country and even globally to some degree.

After a decline between 2001 and 2003, total employment in the Construction sector had increased significantly towards mid 2000 steadily increasing towards 1 191 000. Incidentally, construction was the largest industry contributing to employment growth during that period.

After a decline between 2001 and 2002, formal employment has increased steadily from 300 000 in 2002 to 877 000 at the end of 2008. Informal employment, on the other hand, has fluctuated over the last eight years.

The number of people in informal employment in the industry peaked at 399 000 in 2005 and declined to 314 000 at the end of 2008. While there is a slight downturn in employment currently due to economic challenges, the industry has proven itself in the past to be sufficiently robust and resourceful to survive such episodes. I would like you to explore the opportunities that are available both within South Africa and the broader SADC community within which South Africa finds itself.

This cyclical nature of the industry in itself does not provide a very conducive environment within which workers are required to perform optimally. Employees who are considered construction employees and who may have been off work for sometime may be hired within a year or even several years later. They will however be hired with the understanding that they are able to do the work and may therefore not necessarily receive the necessary training to the required level.

The statistics on employment do not give an accurate picture of the extent to which the different flexible working arrangements are used in the construction industry. In addition, the more recent figures indicating a decline in informal employment seem to be at odds with the trends as identified by industry informants. They estimate that about 40 to 50 per cent of workers are employed by micro and small enterprises.

Stats SA’s last large-scale construction industry survey reported that large enterprises employ the greatest percentage of people working in the industry. This is followed by micro enterprises, which employ 30.8% of the workforce. Medium and small enterprises employ 23.4 per cent and 10.2 per cent respectively. This shows that small and micro enterprises collectively command a significant portion of the labour force in the industry (41 percent).

Following a slump in the industry in the 1990s, the construction industry underwent a boom. Statistics South Africa reported that the sector grew by 14, 2% in the third quarter of 2007 (Stats SA 2007, 7). Earnings increased from R 6.73b in June 2006 to a high of R9.39b in December 2007. After a decline to R8.32b in March 2008, earnings increased and peaked at R9.75b in September 2008. Growth in the industry accelerated after 2006 due to the 2010 FIFA World Cup construction projects.

The latest information on employment within the construction sector reflected a decrease in Q1 for January to March 2011 as 1 031 000, with a subsequent decline in employees from January to March 2012 as 986 000.

This statistic reflects the importance of the Construction Sector to our economy, not only as it makes infrastructure available, but also contributes to the well being of our society through the provision of employment.

Our Department prides itself with the fact that all our labour market policies are a product of stakeholder collaboration and consultation. As a Department, we have long realised the fact that the Department alone cannot solve the labour market ills, hence our advocating of “tri-partism” as the cornerstone of the transformation of the labour market.

Just a little over a decade ago, the Department launched the Occupational Health and Safety Accord (2002). Since the signing of that Accord, the Department has promulgated the first set of sector specific Construction Regulations, actively engaged its stakeholders in the Construction sector to review those Regulations and is on the verge of presenting an amended Construction Regulation.

The Department has also over time trained numerous trade union shop stewards, conducted thousands of inspections and serve various Contravention, Improvement Notices and stopped various unsafe acts and conditions on various construction sites through the serving of Prohibition Notices where there was immediate danger to life or limb.
It is notable that the Construction sector incident claims are currently within the top five registered by the Compensation Fund.

The Construction sector is a sector that has a diverse segment of workers involved on every project, from the illiterate, to the most highly educated people involved.

It is also a sector that has diverse cross section of stakeholders involved in different areas i.e. Master Builders South Africa, South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, Black Business Council, Council for the Built Environment with sub-Councils in the form of the Engineering Council of South Africa, Construction Industry Development Board, South African Council for Project and Construction Management Professions, various Trade Unions and its affiliates in the form of COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU and various Higher Education Departments in the form of Universities. The sector is also serviced to some extent by the South African Bureau of Standards and the South African National Accreditation Services (SANAS) Body.

It is also notable that various Charters have been signed over the last several years by several Bodies in the in Government and in the Private Sector in the construction sector.
Over the last several years this sector has seen a number of high profile incidents involved ranging from bridge and building collapses to support work and scaffolding collapses.

There have also been various trench collapses. These incidents have seen employees suffer from minor injuries to permanent disabling injuries to fatalities. The highest number of fatalities suffered to date on a construction site being 14 on the Injaka bridge collapse in Mpumalanga.

Almost ten years ago, on the 13th November 2003 between 17h30 to 18h00 a section between two piers of the Neptune Road over Rail Bridge collapsed during the pouring of the concrete, more than 80% of the 525 cubic metres was already placed over a period of about 11hours when the said span collapsed, due to the weight it carried, Messrs Rakoma and Manedi died and twenty three others were injured.

The collapse of the structure was found to be directly related to the negligence on the part of the Joint Venture. The Joint Venture should have guarded against this foreseeable eventuality relating to the collapse.

Lessons learnt from the collapse relates directly to the role the designer plays after he or she has released any design work. In this regard, the legislation has now been further strengthened to ensure greater accountability.

The principal contractor, who plays a vital role in the management of any construction activity on site must be held fully responsible and accountable and must not play Russian roulette when embarking on a construction project. Every aspect must be well thought out, executed and monitored according to site specific risk management plans, risks that have been identified pre-project and post commencement.

Before 2003, the Construction sector was exposed to fragmented legislation which did not in any way assist the sector. The legislation on its own was quite daunting to the uninitiated and now the building work supervisor was expected to navigate through the legislation to find the appropriate legislation to comply with. In the 1990’s, it was not unusual to find supervisors on sites with a very basic command of the English language. These same people were expected to manage every aspect of the activities on site and communicate a range of issues to those present and working on site.

The Department had promulgated the first Construction Regulations in 2003, specific to the Construction sector.

The Regulations had as its foundation the Client, the Principal Contractor and Contractor, Supervision of construction work, Risk Assessment and Designer (See Structure) … with the rest of the Regulations being specialist areas on a construction site with specific requirements.

Of course while the Regulations for the construction sector was now more specific, it was nevertheless read with the rest of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act 85 of 1993 thereby providing a more comprehensive but clear legislative framework within which the sector operated.

There is now progress towards creating the kind of environment within the construction industry that will ensure that the construction sector receives the kind of attention that has been long outstanding.

Partnerships are key to succeeding in this tough and highly complex sector. It is therefore imperative that stakeholder collaboration is clear and that the commitment to succeed is on the same level from all parties involved.

Research has found that some of the key barriers to effective and qualitative partnerships. In order to succeed, the parties will need to apply the five key ingredients that are deemed pivotal or critical for successful implementation of any collaborative effort:

1. Vision; members must agree to the common aims and objectives
2. Engagement; acceptable method(s) to be agreed to
3. Trust; time and resources to be committed to build trusting relationships
4. Communication by a common means
5. Process; to be followed to ensure the Accord’s success.

There are various initiatives under way with several partners to ensure that the sector advances in relation to health and safety … one of those initiatives includes this sector Accord.

Several months ago saw the first march of a trade union, wherein a Trade Union indicated that the time had come for all partners to hold hands and declare that the time has come to hold hands and to make a difference … that the unnecessary loss of a single life in the construction sector is no longer acceptable.

In conclusion, it is imperative that the industry joins hands to effect the change required and in so doing, stem the tide of unnecessary deaths that the industry sees each year. This partnership between the various parties and the success of this Accord will rely on the Leadership provided and the communication between the affected partners and those they represent.

The signing of the Accord will be followed by an Action Plan, drafted and agreed to by all stakeholders which will be communicated to the industry by way of the media and thereafter by several workshops in several of the Provinces. This will take place within the next six months. The partners will however be expected to commence working together immediately after the Action Plan has been drafted and agreed to.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for having heeded the call to attend this ceremony, we welcome your participation for the betterment of all people’s lives involved in the construction sector, directly or indirectly. May we therefore proceed with the signing of the Accord.

• SA Department of Labour director general Nkosinathi Nhleko’s speech, read on his behalf by a deputy DG, at the Construction Health and Safety Accord signing in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, August 24, 2012.

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