Safcec calls on government to halt ‘construction mafia’ 

Safcec calls on government to halt ‘construction mafia’ 

By Roy Cokayne, IOL Business Report

Safcec has sent an SOS to government and demanded urgent intervention to halt the so-called “construction mafia”.

The SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors of South Africa (Safcec) has sent a SOS to government and demanded urgent intervention at the highest government level to halt a series of attacks on construction projects by AK-47 wielding thugs who are part of the so-called “construction mafia”.

Webster Mfebe, the chief executive of Safcec, an industry body representing JSE listed, non-listed and emerging contractors, said today (wed) these gangs had to date disrupted and halted at least 78 projects worth a minimum of R25.5 billion.

Mfebe said the industry was gravely concerned about this situation and the harm it caused to investor confidence in South Africa’s economy.

He said these disruptions had already resulted in at least 110 engineers and other highly skilled technical personnel leaving the country largely, with many others on the verge of leaving, due to these incidents because of the personal risk to their lives and the lack of work because of projects being disrupted at gunpoint.

Mfebe provided a list of the names and skills of 110 engineers and skilled technical people who had already left the country.

Image: IOL

He said the loss to the country of these key skills would create a serious capacity problem for the construction industry in South Africa.

Safcec has sent letters containing an urgent plea for government intervention to President Cyril Ramaphosa and finance minister Tito Mboweni that were also copied to public works minister Thulas Nxesi, economic development minister Ebrahim Patel, planning, monitoring and evaluation minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, energy minister Jeff Radebe, police minister Bheki Cele and transport minister Blade Nzimande.

The letters follow the latest incident a week ago when armed gangs attacked the R2.4bn German oil storage investment project being built by WBHO Construction in Saldanha in Western Cape and demanded to be part of the project.

Mfebe said the attack resulted in the site “resembling a war zone and the project being halted because of property and plant being set alight and burnt down.

Mfebe said police arrived quickly on the scene but said there was nothing they could do as only the public order police from Paarl could handle the situation and it took them three hours to arrive while local police and contractors watched on as property was burnt to ashes.

Contractors, including female engineers and staff, had to run for their lives into the veld,” he said.

Mfebe was aghast that such an incident could take place in South Africa, which made the project site look like a war zone in Afghanistan or Iran, without any comment from the South African government.

He said this incident followed the termination by the Aveng and European-based Strabag International joint venture of the R1.5bn SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) Mtentu Bridge Project in the Eastern Cape due to site disruptions by armed gangs demanding to be part of the project.

Despite reporting it to the police and interdicts obtained, the disruptors were released after being arrested and continued disrupting the sites unabated with AK 47 rifles,” he said.

Mfebe also cited an incident that took place in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016 when the black owner of a construction company was accosted at gunpoint by the disruptors demanding a stake in the project he had been awarded.

When he refused, he was killed in cold blood. The KZN police are aware of the incident.

Despite the perpetrators being known to the police, to date no arrests have been made,” he said.

Mfebe said this incident was indicative of the fact that contractors of all sizes were adversely affected by “this gruesome phenomenon”.

He added that despite contractors being faced with this situation, which was beyond their control, and having laid charges at police stations and in most cases obtaining court interdicts against the disruptors, public sector client departments, such as Sanral, like “continue to mete out heavy penalties against contractors for standing time.

Mfebe said this was driving these companies to the brink of bankruptcy, adding some had already entered business rescue and were shedding more jobs.

We hereby humbly request an urgent Cabinet pronouncement and action on these matters as the Rule of Law needs to be maintained at all times in order not to scare off investors in the sector.

We further request an urgent meeting with captains of construction industry to discuss this emergency, including lack of work and non-payment of contractors (for completed and certified work) by public sector client departments, which issues go against the President’s statement [on September 21 2018] that: ‘The stimulus and recovery plan prioritises infrastructure spending as a critical driver of economic activity’.”

Are your workers trained to work safely at height?

Are your workers trained to work safely at height?

MBA North calls for greater awareness of risks posed by working at height

Accidents involving falling account for over 15% of all incidents recorded by members of the Federated Employers’ Mutual Assurance Company – the second-largest category. “This statistic shows that the construction industry has some work to do in promoting the safety of employees working at height,” says Gerhard Roets of Master Builders Association (MBA) North. “As one of the concerned industry bodies, we are urging members to take advantage of the varied services offered by the Institute for Working at Height, as well as the growing range of specialised equipment on the market.”

The Institute for Working at Height (IWH) is a non-profit, non-statutory body, divided into a professional body as well as a trade association. Its core function is to promote safety for all employees when working at height in South Africa and it provides guidance on which standards to adhere to, good-practice-notes and guidelines to safer work at height. The IWH also advises on appropriate training for various working-at-height scenarios, as well as checking if the training provider is in fact adhering to all the criteria that they should to deliver proper, accredited and quality assured training. It is also the role of the IWH to keep the industry updated on the latest rules and legislation, services, equipment and so on by conducting meetings and seminars.

MBA North in collaboration with The Institute for Work at Height (IWH) and The South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (SAFCEC) are hosting a special seminar in Midrand on 20 February 2019 to address this burning issue. For more information please contact Mbuya at mbuya@mbanorth.co.za or 0118056611.

The IWH has also just begun conducting compliance audits as a way of helping its members to improve their compliance with relevant safety legislation and regulations.

An-Lie Nel, Trade Manager at the IWH believes that training holds one of the keys for ensuring safety when working at height, as well as responding to any accident that might occur. She says that it is important that employers make certain that they only engage with accredited training providers.

“In addition, not only should the training be accredited, it must also be quality assured by the relevant body – there are many fly-by-night providers out there,” she warns. Clients can contact the IWH to find out if a provider they are interested in using is, in fact, reliable.

A particular area that needs attention is ladders, which account for just over 3% of all accidents related to falling, the largest category. Nel notes that while there are no published training standards relating to ladders, the IWH has registered its own set of training outcomes. The IWH is urging its members, and the industry at large, to ensure their employees are properly trained in the safe use of ladders – after all, they are one of the most common pieces of equipment on any building site.

Nel says that contractors should be aware that over the years the industry has developed many regulations and guidelines to help ensure the safety of those working at height. In addition, a growing range of sophisticated tools and equipment is being produced that is scientifically tested and designed for these hazardous working conditions.

Darryl Voysey, Operations Director at Form-Scaff, the agent for Combisafe equipment in South Africa, says statistically the construction sector is one of the most dangerous sectors to work in, with over 50% of all fatalities within the industry relating to ‘working at height’ incidents. It is worth noting that while many of these accidents relate to workers falling from height, an often overlooked but equally critical number of cases are those where damage is sustained by falling objects.

“From an occupational health and safety point of view, it thus makes great sense to invest in tried, tested and approved fall protection equipment. Unfortunately, in South Africa, this portion of the project is rarely specified in the Bills of Quantity, so it becomes an extra expense for the contractor who needs to ensure that it is priced correctly. Very often the temptation is to jury-rig something, but that is risky in itself as this unique ‘solution’ is not tested, and so one has no idea how it will actually perform when required.”

Honeywell’s Mike Murley adds that a safety solution needs to be comprehensive and include netting and fall-restraint equipment. Each site is unique, and so the solution must be able to be adapted to the conditions on (or above) the ground. Contractors should also be aware that reputable service providers will undertake on-site equipment training if required.

Roets says employers have a legal and moral duty to keep their employees safe, and the dangers are obviously particularly clear when working at height. “This is an area in which South Africa is currently lagging, so it’s an issue that deserves our attention. Safety is one of the pressing issues for our industry,” he says.

MBA North in collaboration with The Institute for Work at Height (IWH) and The South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (SAFCEC) are hosting a special seminar in Midrand on 20 February 2019 to address this burning issue. For more information please contact Mbuya at mbuya@mbanorth.co.za or 0118056611.