Who will take the fall for the M1 Grayston bridge collapse?

Four days before the temporary bridge over the M1 and Grayston Drive interchange collapsed in October, concerns were raised about the stability of the structure. This was revealed during initial submissions presented and read out by parties involved in the project at the first sitting of the inquiry to probe the cause of the collapse, which claimed two lives and injured 19.

Construction giant Murray & Roberts (M&R) was awarded the tender. It subcontracted scaffolding company Form-Scaff to supply building materials, parts of which were assembled before on-site delivery.

On October 10, four days before the temporary bridge tumbled, seven representatives from M&R and Form-Scaff met on site.

Form-Scaff’s legal counsel Ewan Rudolph told the inquiry that Hein Pretorius, M&R’s contracts manager, had raised concerns about the pre-assembled materials’ alignment for the construction because “it appeared that the girder batteries were misaligned”.

The girders (primary support beams) had spanned both directions of the M1 where the collapse took place.

Rudolph said subsequent to that, his client had raised concerns about the site because it had not been levelled or excavated in preparation for the arrival of the preassembled materials. But Pretorius had assured Form-Scaff representatives that the necessary work would be completed in time.

“It was evident that M&R was not ready to receive the preassemblies, as the required temporary works to support the girder assembly had not been completed. M&R’s representatives assured Form-Scaff that the temporary works would be ready in time,” said Rudolph.

He further testified that after this meeting where these issues were raised, M&R had chosen not to call representatives from Form-Scaff on site.

“Form-Scaff did not have sight of M&R’s construction methodology drawings and Form-Scaff has no knowledge of the construction methodology that M&R used in erecting the temporary work,” said Rudolph.

A few days later, the temporary bridge collapsed in a hail of steel and concrete, littering the M1.

Rudolph added that M&R had deviated from the final drawings submitted on August 31 2015.

Furthermore, only a portion of the scaffolding support work had been completed by the time the deadline expired.

The Johannesburg Development Agency commissioned the project. And, whereas Form-Scaff and M&R counsel debated responsibility, the JDA’s principal engineer, Siyabonga Genu, said M&R was ultimately responsible for the design and construction of the project.

Genu also said, that prior to the M1 being reopened, bolts meant to hold the collapsed pillars were found to be missing.

Representing the JDA, Willem le Roux told the inquiry that an M&R engineer had said at a meeting five days after the tragedy that a set of bolts between two girder assemblies in the pillars located in the middle of the road had not been installed.

M&R and Form-Scaff had “discussed this and they concluded that the missing bolts would not affect the [rest of the] structure”, said Le Roux.

At one point during the inquiry, M&R lead counsel Richard Hoal cautioned against the admissibility of the contents of some of the reports, saying they needed to be supported by, for example, witness statements.

Lennie Samuel, the inquiry’s presiding officer, responded by saying he would take that into consideration.

Approached by the Mail & Guardian for further comment on the allegations levelled against M&R, the company’s media executive Ed Jardim said it was best not to comment on the first day’s proceeding as the inquiry was still in progress.

Samuel has given all parties until the end of March to submit their final investigation reports.

The next sitting is scheduled for April 19.

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