No job is worth a life, says Nxesi as search for 39 workers nears 48-hour mark at George building collapse

08 May 2024 - 09:46
By TimesLive
Rescue workers at the collapsed multistorey building under construction in Victoria Street, George.
Image: Herman Pieters/Garden Route District Municipality Rescue workers at the collapsed multistorey building under construction in Victoria Street, George.

Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi says the collapse of a multistorey building under construction in George, with 75 workers on site, serves as a reminder of the critical importance of prioritising safety in the workplace.

Since the Monday afternoon tragedy, 36 workers have been retrieved from the rubble, of whom seven were dead, 16 in a critical condition, six categorised with life-threatening injuries and seven have minor injuries.

With the rescue operation approaching 43 hours, 39 workers are still unaccounted for, the George municipality said in a 9am update.

Rescue operations are continuing with a multidisciplinary rescue team of more than 200 people.

An investigation into the cause of the collapse is under way with teams from the province and police. Employment and labour department occupational health and safety inspectors are also on site.

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“We will await the official handing over of the site to the department to enable us to proceed with investigations” on finalisation of rescue and recovery interventions, Nxesi said.

“No words can express the sorrow felt for the lives lost and the anguish experienced by those awaiting news of their loved ones. 

“It is a collective responsibility to honour the memory of those lost by ensuring they did not die in vain. Strengthening the commitment to health and safety is essential.

“It is imperative to recommit ourselves to the principle that no job is worth risking the safety or lives of employees. Every effort must be made to prevent similar incidents in future. Redoubling efforts to promote a culture of safety, vigilance and accountability in organisations is paramount.”

Western Cape premier Alan Winde said he was humbled by the help given to the rescue and emergency response effort.

“From the first responders who have been working since Monday afternoon to save the lives of the trapped construction workers, to residents who turned out in their numbers to offer help in any way they can, you make me humble and grateful,” he said.

“Every time one of those huge pieces of concrete is lifted from the site, I hope for good news.

“Our teams on the ground are working to rescue the remaining 39 individuals. I cannot express the emotions I felt yesterday [Tuesday] when the site would suddenly go completely quiet in the hope that our teams might be close to locating another survivor.”

While an arduous few days still lie ahead as search and rescue efforts continue, Winde said, “the heart and soul that volunteers and NGOs have shown in offering support to the families of the affected construction workers has been extraordinary”.

He applauded LoveGeorge, Gift of the Givers, Sarza search and rescue, the Lions of George, Garden Route Food Pantry and Food Sock Meals, neighbourhood watches and community policing forums, as well as individual residents.

“Without us all pulling together, we would not have been able to respond to this incident in the way we have. We must not give up hope. To all the emergency personnel assisting: you are true heroes.

“My heart goes out to the families of the deceased. I share your pain. We will do everything we can to ensure we determine the cause of this incident.”

One of the workers known to have been rescued is Delvin Safers, a 29-year-old electrician who had initially been in contact with his family via cellphone while trapped in the rubble, until the battery ran out. He has been admitted to hospital for treatment.

On Tuesday evening, Nicole Arendse, his partner and the mother of their young child, shared a prayer of thanks on Facebook for his rescue. In an earlier thread, she disclosed they had been in WhatsApp contact. "I told my boyfriend he must try to make a noise, so that the rescuers can listen where to find him," she wrote. 

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