Medupi’s toxic health and safety culture

Eskom Medupi power station is under construction, but barely.

Health and safety culture and leadership at the Eskom Medupi power station construction site is compromised by stressors, errors, BEE, and politics.

A contractor at Medupi, west of Lephalale (former Ellisras) in Limpopo province, writing on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said there was no visible or ‘felt’ leadership, and no work ethic.

“At one of the substations, the air conditioning system was not working, and it was 40 degrees in the workplace.

“The aircon controller was the wrong type. It took four months to find a replacement.”

“Staff management is a mess. Workers just sit and look at you if you ask them anything. They know that if they were ordered to respond, they could strike, as they have done. So nobody orders them to do anything.

“The two main chimneys at Medupi were built facing in the wrong direction, or backward. The pipework will all have to be changed.

“The efficiency of the blowers will be affected since the pipework is incorrect. The engineer who signed off on the building of the chimneys has disappeared.

“There was insufficient management oversight. My experience is that no one is in charge.” The contractor fears that more health, safety and environmental risks may emerge from botched work and lack of management.

“No one takes the lead for fear of being fired. The skills to do the work are not there either, but BEE is served.

No work ethic at Medupi
“Work ethic is also lacking. Workers get the last day of the month off, as well as half the previous day for payday.

“General workers arrive between 8:00 and 9:00, and start working only by 10:00. Lunch starts at about 11:30 and finishes about 14:00. They leave work about 15:30.

“General workers should pull in cables, move panels, and so on. Very little work gets done because of the short working hours.

Eskom Medupi coal power station construction is suffereng more than its expected share of state ineptitude, political intereference, labour politics, and health and safety risks. Photo: Mybroadband.com).

Eskom Medupi coal power station construction is suffereng more than its expected share of state ineptitude, political intereference, labour politics, and health and safety risks. The main health and safety factor currently is that very little work is in progress. Photo: Mybroadband.com).

“The food contract is apparently run by a politically connected supplier. Many workers are bussed to the central dining room, and lunch hour only starts when they pick up the plate to be served, so lunch could last three hours in some sections.”

When Eskom served workers with cold lunch packs on occasion, these were thrown to the ground, presumably since it could replace dining trips.

“While the workers were on strike, the food contractor was paid in full, despite not serving up. The lunch contract has come up for review three times, but is just re-awarded,” said the contractor.

Several heatlh and safety bodies had planned to use the Eskom new-built programme, and particularly Medupi, as a practical training ground for construction health and safety officers.

Medupi ‘graves curse’ rumour
“How come this Medupi [construction project] never comes together?” asked CRL Rights Commission chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi in yet another power capacity twist.

At the release of their report against the re-use of graves by local governments, she noted a rumour that graves were disturbed during Medupi construction, upsetting the ancestors.

“This Medupi dream will never happen. It will be another ten years.” Construction of the power station has been beset by delays and strikes by some contractors.

The commission would recommend to Eskom how to deal with the “bones that were strewn around”.

A development EIA may involve and HIA
However rumours of graves are sometimes started to serve false land claims, or to extort developers to fund ritual feasts, or to add a supposed ‘cause’ to the agenda of local politicians.

Finding a grave on a work site, as sometimes occurs during and environmental impact assessment (EIA), requires informing the police. If it proves to be a historic grave, an historic impact assessment (HIA) may be required.

HIAs usually involve specialised archaeologists, and consulting interested and affected parties, in a process under the authority of the SA Heritage Resources Association (SAHRA). This process could prove long and problematic (see the Kimberley CBD Samy’s Wholesalers extension ‘grave’ saga on SAHRUS website).

eThekkwini under fire for re-using graves
The CRL Commission protects cultural and religious practices and linguistic communities. It reported on complaints that several municipalities were re-using old graves.

Mkhwanazi said eThekwini (Durban) was “disrespecting cultural values”. The commission’s deputy chairperson, Luka Mosoma, said the practice was affecting the poor worst, as they could not afford headstones, and municipalities tend to re-use these graves.

eThekwini municipality advertise intended grave re-use in the classified section of newspapers.

The CRL Commission called for a national law to regulate graveyards, and threatened court action.

Local government body Salga official Mvuyisi April said municipalities were “seriously running out of space”, but municipalities should not violate rights.

Salga was looking at “striking a balance between managing space and respecting people’s rights.”

Old nuclear technology threat
Meanwhile South Africa is negotiating with nuclear plant suppliers, despite warnings by several analysts that it would lead to high foreign capital expenditure, high running costs, old technology transfer, and high levels of toxic waste, perhaps even imported radio-active waste.

A few South African academics are already being trained in energy technology, in a programme set up by a number of universities led by UJ in 2014.

The academics could not, or would not disclose at the time whether it was a nuclear skills programme.

Several African governments remain ambivalent about their energy policies, but none have rejected nuclear energy.

Sources; A Medupi contractor. Mybroadband.com. SAHRA. Sheqafrica.com.

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Sheqafrica.com is Africa's largest independent SHEQ Magazine, hosting over 2 000 articles and news items since 2007. Sheqafrica.com is owned by the Cygma Group, a global provider of risk management and compliance solutions. Sheqafrica.com is registered as a digital publication with the ISSN.

1 Comment on "Medupi’s toxic health and safety culture"

  1. Saide Mansur | 2 June 2015 at 06:47 |

    Very interesting article that covers a few topics that have been raised on numerous occasions without any actions or improvements. How did we get to Eskom Medupi power station = stressors, errors, BEE, and politics?

    The article highlights a number of failures at Eskom –
    1) Management Leadership ,Commitment and Accountability
    2) Risk Assessment and Management
    3) Facilities design and construction
    4) Personnel and training
    5) Third Party Services.
    Eskom should be evaluating itself, and ensure that its mangement system failures are addressed. However note that I do not include BBE and politics, as these should not be impacting the business, and instead should be enabling Eskom.

    ==== Former editor notes; Politics, including BEE, enable political systems, not state systems or economic systems. Case studies are available into the old railways (SAR&H), the Broederbond, the old and new SABC, SABS, SAA, mining rights, fisheries, SANDF, NPA, DPW, DOL, and similar entities worldwide. And Eskom /Zimcom. Power play indeed.
    Pity the thousands of employees who are trying to make an honest living in politically and ethically compromised ‘state’ entities that are managed as political entities. The political peer pressure is as heavy as in communism or the old SA. If service and governance are not the ethic of the coprorate culture, then health, safety and environment are even lower down the scale.

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