Inadequate safety measures a concern

* If the areas near or in roads, pictured in photographs A and B are not properly repaired or reinstated to original engineering requirements, roads could still suffer damage at a later stage,

The rush for fibre in Fish Hoek has raised serious questions about the contractors’ health-and-safety practices and sparked fears their digging could collapse some roads.

But they’ve denied flouting health-and-safety regulations while trenching across the valley.

Since trenching started in January, the Echo has been inundated with complaints ranging from damage to property, water and electricity cuts as well as poor safety measures.

And this week, the Echo publishes a letter from a motorist whose car ended up in a small sinkhole near Disa Avenue (See page 2).

In February, the City of Cape Town halted operations of Frogfoot, one of the fibre-optic network providers, and withdrew its way-leave permissions after it damaged water and power cables in the valley (“City take fibre network provider to task,” Echo, February 28).

In recent weeks, Fish Hoek residents have complained about rubble blocking pavements and roadside trenches not being adequately covered.

The Echo sent some photographs of various excavations in the valley to a professional construction health and safety agent, Dean Williams, for comment.

According to Mr Williams, the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act deals mostly with workplace safety, but Section 9 states “reasonably practicable measures” should be taken to protect the public from health and safety hazards which may be caused by a company’s activities. And there are several other laws and regulations that support the act.

Excavations accessible to the public or next to public roads should have a fence or barrier at least one metre high, Mr Williams said, and warning illuminants or clearly visible boundary indicators should also be visible at night or when visibility was poor.

Analysing the photos, Mr Williams said an excavation on the corner of 10th Avenue (See photo A), was of major concern due to continuous vehicle movement on the road. He said even a big heavy truck could cause the road surface to crack and collapse.

Rain and eroding soil could increase the risk of the road collapsing.

Mr Williams also noted that warning signs should be posted around the excavation – as required by the South African Road Traffic Signs Manual (SARTSM) – but none were visible.

Excavated soil left on the edge of a trench (in Picture A)could bury workers if it slipped, he said.

The trench has since been filled in.

“If the areas near or in roads are not properly repaired or reinstated to original engineering requirements, roads could still suffer damage at a later stage,” he said.

In photograph B, Mr Williams said the netting was pegged in to the ground and could easily be pulled out or blown over by the wind.

He said the netting was also past the excavation edge instead of being placed around the outside of the edge. Should a big truck cut the corner, it could easily get stuck in the trench, he said. Also, the netting wouldn’t stop someone falling in the trench.

He said, depending on the street lighting, the barricade could be difficult to see at night and in terms of SARTSM requirements, road signs would be needed or a flagman during day time would be required.

Photograph C shows a large concrete block on the pavement, and Mr Williams said according to Construction Regulation 27 in the Act, the contractor was responsible to ensure that “housekeeping” (cleaning up) was continuously done. Rubble on the pavement, as seen in photograph C, should be fenced off to prevent injury.

In Photograph D, except for partially held up netting, there is no effective barricade and no warning signs can be seen around the excavation.

When this was put to Frogfoot and Link Africa, they pointed fingers at each other, with Frogfoot marketing specialist, Kayleigh Rossler, saying it was Link Africa digging and Link Africa’s regional manager, David Ashdown, saying Link Africa was not very active in Fish Hoek at present and was waiting for Frogfoot to complete its reinstatement work.

Mr Ashdown said all appointed Link Africa contractors were vetted to ensure compliance to both the OHSA, construction regulations as well as any Link Africa requirements that supersede legislated requirements.

He admitted that Link Africa did have barricades damaged by rain and wind last week but their project manager had repaired them on Monday May 20.

Typically, he said, Link Africa preferred that trenches were opened and closed on the same day, although for various reasons exceptions to the rule could occur.

“Our appointed project leaders are responsible to monitor compliance to both quality and health and safety on a daily basis and take action against non-compliance,” he said.

Ms Rossler said Frogfoot had “extensive health and safety measures in place.”

Mayoral committee member for transport, Felicity Purchase, said issues raised by the Echo had been brought to the attention of the appointed engineer for action.

She said as part of the wayleave approval process, the City required all service providers to appoint a registered engineer or technologist to oversee and supervise the works which included attending to health and safety requirements and “housekeeping” issues.

City officials, she said, also carried out ad hoc site inspections and would ensure that the issues raised were addressed speedily.