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Occupational Health & Safety News South Africa

Lessons from George building collapse: Importance of compliance for disaster mitigation

The catastrophic collapse of a near-completed building under construction in George in May 2024, which resulted in at least 34 fatalities and many more injured, has shone a spotlight on the need for compliance. This includes health and safety compliance as well as industrial relations (IR) and human resources (HR). The tragedy has highlighted critical issues surrounding employment dynamics across various sectors, prompting a deeper examination of labour practices within different industries.
Image source: HONGQI ZHANG –
Image source: HONGQI ZHANG –

Compliance should never be about ticking boxes

For many businesses, compliance has become an exercise in simply ticking boxes, but the reality is that every piece of compliance legislation is there for a reason, and at the root of that reason is often the well-being of the workforce. When the building in George collapsed, more than 80 people were trapped in the ruins, but at the time, nobody knew exactly how many people were onsite, or who was already accounted for and who was still missing once rescue operations were underway.

This was the result of shortcuts being taken around HR and IR practices, as well as inadequate vetting and verification of subcontractors and lack of formalised processes. In addition to not maintaining a register of workers on site, it has been alleged that undocumented workers were part of the workforce, and that people were performing tasks that they had not received appropriate training for or were not qualified for. Not only is this a legal challenge but is also a risk from a health and safety perspective.

Shortcuts cost lives

Compliance is perceived as unnecessary red tape, but not taking these requirements seriously costs lives. The onus is on every employer to ensure that they have done everything in their power to fulfil their obligation of keeping their workforce safe. The failures that this incident brought to light have caused the Department of Labour to renew their focus on compliance.

It is imperative to ensure that you know who is on site at all times, and to ensure that they are appropriately documented, trained, experienced, and vetted. It is also essential to have the right information about each worker, including contactable family and next of kin. These are the basics and the bare minimum, but on sites where there are hundreds of workers, this can become an admin-intensive and laborious process. This is where a TES provider can prove themselves invaluable.

Reducing the compliance burden

Ensuring compliance while managing the administration of a large contract-based workforce and handling HR and IR effectively can be a labour-intensive process, and companies need to focus on their core business operations. A reputable and experienced TES provider can assist across the entire staffing function. This includes not only management, onboarding and vetting of a flexible workforce, but also ensuring that workers are appropriately skilled and experienced, that they have appropriate PPE and medical clearances, and that the right indemnifications are in place to ensure compliance with applicable regulatory frameworks.

TES providers can also positively impact the B-BBEE scorecard, which is an important consideration in tender-based industries. They provide a pool of vetted employees with the right skills, helping to improve project quality and positively impact timelines. Additionally, they can manage relations with unions and bargaining councils, as TES providers are skilled in handling labour relations issues.

A TES partner allows companies to focus on their core business while ensuring their workforce is compliant and that all necessary health and safety measures and precautions are in place, which is critical in avoiding crises similar to the George disaster.

About Donné Nieman

Donné Nieman is a sales director at Workforce Staffing

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