A slab of concrete at the ill-fated Tongaat mall sagged by seven centimetres in the days leading up to the collapse that claimed two lives and injured 29 others, an inquiry heard in Durban on Wednesday.
Ronnie Pillay, a foreman at Gralio Precast (Pty) Ltd, told the labour department inquiry investigating the collapse that one of the slabs at the mall sagged by 70 mm.
The inquiry is being chaired by the department’s occupational health and safety manager Phumudzo Maphaha.
Pillay said the area that ultimately collapsed was to the right of the sagging slab.
“When the foreman brought it to my attention, I stopped work [continuing] immediately.”
He said he then contacted the engineer Andre Ballack and informed him of the problem. He also contacted Gralio owner Jay Singh. “I told him we have got a serious problem,” said Pillay, who admitted he had no formal qualifications.
Pillay said ultimately the instruction was to build two beams under the sagging slab.
He believed that had the supporting columns been bigger the collapse would have been averted and had raised his concerns with Singh. He was later advised these were sufficient.
He had raised concerns over the design of the lift shaft. These, he said had been accepted and the plans for the shaft were accordingly altered. Pillay said the slabs had been poured at least 21 days before the scaffolding was removed. He believed the time for the concrete to cure was more than sufficient.
Pillay said the on the day of the collapse, November 19, scaffolding was being removed. He was on the edge of the slab when “I heard a deep sound”.
“Within seconds the entire slab started caving in a hole. I saw it coming towards me.”
Two supervisors who were with him fled in the opposite direction.
“I jumped three metres down onto the mezzanine slab. That’s how I escaped the fall.”
He said he ran through mall and down to the bottom where he saw many injured workers.