Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Collapsing standards in structural engineering

It's not only that the ANC government does not want to understand that it is accountable to the NPA and not the other way around, as per the Constitution of the country, but that the ANC wants to legislate non-verifiable building 'standards'.

With dependable stupidity, the ANC is in the process of abolishing the Engineering Council of SA (ECSA) to impose a system of licensing, which will of course be all about graft.

You walk into any newly constructed public building at your peril in South Africa.

Excerpt from The Structural Engineer, 87 (19):

Gavin J-P Thom writes from South Africa lamenting both the deteriorating infrastructure evident in that country and the erosion of the technical resources which no doubt contributes to structural failures such as that which occurred at Roodepoort.

Reading about the recent floor slabs of the newly constructed building in Roodepoort, South Africa (21 July 2009), it does not surprise me.

I agree that there certainly are structural engineers
in private practice in South Africa who 'aspire to achieve excellence' as Rob Young puts it.

The problem arises with the lack of technical skills at institutional level i.e. at government, municipality and local authority levels. There has been a massive exodus of technical skills from these organisations mostly due to political pressure brought about by the government's affirmative action policies and
a lack of understanding of what technical skills are all about.

A typical example is the City of Johannesburg, once the powerhouse of technical municipal services in Africa. Only only needs to drive around the streets of that city to see the potholes, broken manhole covers, streets un-repaired after laying electricity cables etc., not to mention the deteriorating water quality and electricity load shedding that the country recently experienced.

I do not see how mandatory legislation or 'licensing' of structural engineers will help when there is a serious technical skills shortage and a lack of understanding of what is required. Besides, who will police such a system? The government has already said it wants to do away with ECSA and have a single body for all the built environment professions.

As a comparison, in the UK, where there is no such licensing, most civil engineering structures are checked as Category I, II or III depending on their importance and complexity. To my knowledge and having spent 30 years working there, no such system exists in South Africa.

In addition, all UK local authorities employ engineers (at reasonable salaries) and building structural design is checked as part of the Buildings Regulations submissions process. Even temporary works done by contractor's in-house designers are independently checked.
The UK Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 stipulate that a project lasting longer than 30 days or more than 500 person days of construction activity becomes notifiable and a CDM co-ordinator is appointed by the client.

This ensures that all parties to the design and construction are aware of the risks and responsibilities associated with any construction activity. Design risks are identified before any design commences and there is constant input during the construction phase of the project.

It will be difficult to change the construction situation in South Africa. It is important, however, to be aware of the lack of verification of structural design and implementation in that country.

18 Opinion(s):

Pensioner said...

There was an article on the Sunday night news about a church in Johannesburg central that had a staircase collapse on people. This church was brand new, only opened in August. Wanna guess who designed it, who built it, who the building inspector was? I will bet you their names weren't Van de Merwe or McDonald.


All this fancy stuff is not required when building the famous African round mud hut. What is collapsing are the White mans structures built by 3rd world builders.

The Rooster said...

The picture is not in South Africa. Please name a large south African building structure that has ever failed. The quality of our engineering is second to none. Surely there are real issues in the country you could find to moan about ?

h said...

And i bet you every 'sipho' involved in the commissioning of the building made a killing.. no pun intended.

SA has been lost and can never be what it once was. If you have hope for your own future, it cannot be in SA. Those that remain in SA are destined for life in a 3rd world squatter camp that will only get worse.

When those that vote and those that govern have IQ's floating around the 65 mark, things are destined to be a total and utter mess. Even if they wanted to make a great country, they are unable to do so with no intelligence to pull it off.

If you are white and have young kids, you owe it to them to leave and give them opportunities in a 1st world country. If you don't, you are selfish and your childern will have to live with the consequences of your bad judgment and/or lack of willingness.

h said...


You are a real moron. Yes, that image is from the far east and not of a building failure in SA. So what, it's there to add some 'eye candy'.... malakas.

No matter how much positive thought you have, it makes no difference to the reality on the ground in SA. It's a mess and will not be getting any better. You can keep telling yourself that it's a utopia with fairies and unicorns and star dust, etc... but reality is that it's fast becoming a turd world country, just like the rest of africa.

One day, WHEN you leave SA (and i know you will) because of crime or because SA doesn't offer your kids what they deserve, i want you to remember this post. You are a blithering idiot and instead of living in reality, you live in the fairy tale you created in your mind.

Anonymous said...

@Pensioner: You bet!

WHITEADDER: I couldn't agree with you more. Mud huts are economical and easy to build.

Rooster: The furry chicken becomes an expert on building standards. No, the photo isn't in South Africa. Know why? Because there's NO PHOTO on the internet of the 3 storey commercial building that collapsed in Roodepoort. Photographs were NOT ALLOWED to be taken of the collapsed church staircase in the Jhb CBD. There are photos on the internet of the collapsed office building in Rosebank, before and after, taken by someone in an adjacent building, in a private capacity. See here:


You may not say anything about standards being eroded in South Africa. You may not publish photographs of the results of government ineptitude. As a white, you must apologise apologise apologise apologise.

H: You can bet your last pair of onnerbroeks that plenty of bribes and kickbacks were involved. And from now on, guess what, it gets even worse, with untrained government "building inspectors" legitimately taking cash bribes. Forget about transparency, competence or honesty. These are alien concepts in SA.

Anonymous said...

Rooster: You bet I'll give you another authentic SA building disaster story.

And I've even provided a link that works, unlike your own lame posts.


Engineers quizzed as Stellenbosch building disaster probe continues
by Lloyd Ramutloa — last modified 2009-08-07 11:09

6 August 2009

The second group of witnesses was cross examined today, during the second day of the formal inquiry into the 2008 Stellenbosch construction accident which left three workers dead and four others seriously injured.

The accident occurred when a building they were renovating at Distillery Street, Bosman Crossing collapsed on them. First to take the stand was engineer Robert Moffat appointed by the Engineering Council of South Africa, to do a provisional investigation into the incident so as to establish the cause of the accident from the engineering perspective. He was followed by Henrick Conradie who had to explain his involvement as an architecture associated with this project, then came a quantity surveyor Deon don Herthog.

Due to evidence presented today, Willem Smith, an engineer that appeared yesterday had to be re-called to answer to some of the questions emanating from the evidence as presented today. In an attempt to establish a clear understanding of the process that was followed in carrying out some of the jobs on site, presiding officer Phumi Mapaha had to call Sabelo Gasa of Gasa Subcontracting to give his side of the story as worker that was working on that site.

However, after learning that Gasa had not been on site from the start of the project, his testimony could not satisfy the enquiry on what transpired before the collapse. The hearing continues until Friday (August 7). Mapaha is assisted by James Hannie and are both from the Department of Labour. Proceedings start at 09h00-16h00 everyday of the inquiry.


Now do you understand why ECSA must be rendered toothless like the National Prosecuting Authority? Anyone still confused?

Anonymous said...

When you use the phrase "labor shortage" or "skills shortage" you're speaking in a sentence fragment. What you actually mean to say is: "There is a labor shortage at the salary level I'm willing to pay." That statement is the correct phrase; the complete sentence and the intellectually honest statement.

Some people speak about shortages as though they represent some absolute, readily identifiable lack of desirable services. Price is rarely accorded its proper importance in their discussion.

If you start raising wages and improving working conditions, and continue doing so, you'll solve your shortage and will have people lining up around the block to work for you even if you need to have huge piles of steaming manure hand-scooped on a blazing summer afternoon.

And if you think there's going to be a shortage caused by employees retiring out of the workforce: Guess again: With the majority of retirement accounts down about 50% or more, most people entering retirement age are working well into their sunset years. So, you won’t be getting a worker shortage anytime soon due to retirees exiting the workforce.

Some specialized jobs require training and/or certification, again, the solution is higher wages and improved benefits. People will self-fund their re-education so that they can enter the industry in a work-ready state. The attractive wages, working conditions and career prospects of technology during the 1980’s and 1990’s was a prime example of people’s willingness to self-fund their own career re-education.

There is never enough of any good or service to satisfy all wants or desires. A buyer, or employer, must give up something to get something. They must pay the market price and forego whatever else he could have for the same price. The forces of supply and demand determine these prices -- and the price of a skilled workman is no exception. The buyer can take it or leave it. However, those who choose to leave it (because of lack of funds or personal preference) must not cry shortage. The good is available at the market price. All goods and services are scarce, but scarcity and shortages are by no means synonymous. Scarcity is a regrettable and unavoidable fact.

Shortages are purely a function of price. The only way in which a shortage has existed, or ever will exist, is in cases where the "going price" has been held below the market-clearing price.

Anonymous said...

Actually neither of those links to Roodepoort and Stellenbosch building disasters worked, so I'll try again.





Here's the Roodepoort story to save you the hassle, you can always verify by searching for header:

Worker still missing after Roodepoort building collapse

A three-storey building collapsed on Thursday in the Little Falls area of Roodepoort, killing one worker and injuring 14 others.

Another worker was missing, believed trapped under the rubble, and the rescue operation was continuing on Thursday afternoon.

Half of the nearly completed office block was destroyed when the top two storeys collapsed on to the bottom storey.

Emergency workers had cleared rubble by hand around an area where rescue dogs from the police dog unit were trying to locate the missing construction worker.

Some of the sniffer dogs were being distracted by the scent of the construction workers' bags.

Rescue efforts were further being hampered by rubble continuously shifting and settling into the hole where the missing man was presumed to be located.

Heavy equipment was removing rubble in areas where the dogs had not reacted, to decrease the chance of the equipment accidentally injuring the missing worker.

The mass of rubble, as wide and broad as four tennis courts, was very unstable with rescue workers stepping gingerly and keeping to stable areas only.

Private volunteers from K9 Offroad Rescue were being called in by Johannesburg disaster management officials to assist with and possibly hasten the rescue.

The Labour Department's building inspectors were waiting for the engineering plans to ascertain whether there may have been a fault with the design of the building. -- Sapa

Anonymous said...

Worker dies in pillar collapse
October 09 2008 at 12:42PM

A worker was killed when a concrete pillar fell on him at a demolition site in Rosebank in Johannesburg, paramedics said.

"The 58-year-old worker, driving a concrete chipper tractor was busy trying to break a pillar on the first floor on the Volkswagen building which was being demolished at 9.20am," said spokesperson Percy Morokane.

"However, the concrete pillar fell on him, crushing him to death.

All work has been suspended on the site and labour department inspectors were at the scene.

Morokane said the building was declared unstable and unsafe.

Emergency workers were by midday still trying to remove the man's body from the collapsed pillar.

"We are working tirelessly to remove the body using heavy rescue equipment," said Morokane. - Sapa

Viking said...

Excellent comment, Anon.

Thanks for those link, Dachshund.

While working at the new Green Point Stadium I observed very little "BEE" involvement, it was a thoroughly professional and world class operation.
I've also had the opportunity to see some RDP flats in one township, almost new and collapsing already. What a contrast..


@ Anon
Thank you for outlining very precisely the laws of supply and demand and the respective price of labour in an equal opportunity society.
Our market however is distorted by our labour laws as well as the governments drive to out the white worker and professional. Clearly an owngoal.

Viking said...

Absolutely, Whiteadder.
laws of Labour supply and demand have almost no meaning in SA. With the unions conspiring to keep people out of work, immigrants wanting to work for actual market-related wages but getting attacked for it, and people who have jobs showing little appreciation for them, I wonder how the country survives at all.

Anonymous said...

"Shortages are purely a function of price." "... you'll solve your shortage and will have people lining up around the block to work for you even if you need to have huge piles of steaming manure hand-scooped on a blazing summer afternoon."

For manure you need horses in the first place. FAIL Logic 101, FAIL Economics 101.

I'll tell you what, though. If Africans want to destroy what's left of what whites caused to be built in the first place, they are in for a rude awakening when it comes to replacement cost. You're looking at 400% mark ups, at the very least, for bribes and danger money.

The "wekkas" will get away with their lives if they're lucky, they won't be getting any wages. Ask Mugabe what he did with the African population explosion problem.

Anonymous said...

Atta gal Dach!
So where's the Rooster boy now? And yes, I've checked some of his articles, there are NO LINKS in some of them. asshole

Anonymous said...


Don't be a cock one can see it is in the Phillipines or Vietnam as there is a Jolibee advert and they use round electricial transfomers is SE Asia.

The point that is being made is that building standards in SA are going South. Read the article and dont look at the picture that much as it is not the core of the story.

Liberals are such cocks!

Anonymous said...

Anon 17 December 2009 12:01 AM: What the hell kind of a guy calls himself Rooster anyway?

Must be a really tiny cock down there.

Viking said...

Anon 12:01 am
thanks for the input!
Sure, the pic is purely illustrative; we'd have made it a lot more clear if it was related to an incident in the story.
The use of stock photos is hardly revolutionary....