Lift plunge raises questions on employee safety liabilities

Date: 06 Sep 2006
The lift maintenance company whose employee fell down a shaft from the 16th floor might face criminal charges. The Department of Labour was due to hand over its findings and recommendations for prosecution against Highpoint Elevators yesterday. The department's investigators have concluded their probe of the August 8 accident in which Oscar Mabori, a casual worker, suffered multiple injuries when the elevator he was working on plunged from the 16th level into the pit of a Berea, Johannesburg, building. Mabori, two colleagues and a supervisor were fixing the elevator when a chain holding it apparently snapped with him on top. The lift fell at high speed and disintegrated when it hit the bottom. According to the findings, the company flouted the Occupational Health and Safety Act regulations. Investigators say a 1 600kg capacity wire rope was used to carry a 1 846kg lift car. They also found that "the employer (Stephen Harris) wilfully gave false and misleading information during the inquiry". The report was due to be handed to the directorate of public prosecutions at the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court offices before close of business yesterday. The report found that Mabori was a plasterer by trade, and did not have any experience in lift maintenance. In the report, the investigators found that Harris, in his capacity as the owner of Highpoint Elevators, and an employee, Koot Nel, had contravened the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Shortly after the accident, the casual labourer, who had been living in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, for the past three years, said he and two companions were approached by men in a bakkie. "They told me they had work for me in Johannesburg. They wanted us to sort out a lift because they were renovating a building there. "Three of us worked on the lift. We had no agreement about pay. The man in charge said he wanted to see how we worked, and if we worked well, he would give us money." By Bonile Ngqiyaza The Star 05/09/06