A leading building inspector has warned that fatal building failures in South Africa like the collapse of a new Tongaat shopping mall will proliferate due to a lack of adequate policing of building standards and of building materials.
John Graham, CEO of property inspection company HouseCheck says the Tongaat building collapse was likely caused by a combination of ineptitude including:
• Removal of support props too early before the concrete slabs were able to support their own weight. Props should be kept in place for a minimum of 10 - 14 days. Ideally an engineer should determine when it is safe to remove the props. At Tongaat at least two people were crushed by the falling concrete when the props were removed too early.
• Weak concrete mix – using too little, or inferior, cement as a cost saving exercise. Buying concrete from a reputable ready mix company, in accordance with en engineer’s strength specifications, is the right way to go.
• Incorrect or inadequate steel reinforcement – as a result of ignorance or in an attempt to cut costs.
• Poor management of the concrete pour.
Graham says many building sites are poorly policed by municipal building inspectors and by the NHBRC and as a result some builders and developers literally get away with murder. He said unsafe and illegal electrical and hot water geyser installations result in regular fires and personal injury – often in domestic homes.
HouseCheck inspectors estimate that about 70 per cent of domestic hot water geyser installations are not installed correctly and are unsafe. Many electrical certificates of compliance are also issued incorrectly and sometimes even fraudulently.
Other common safety issues often seen by home inspectors were the flouting of fire safety regulations as regard roof cavity fire walls and the installation of fire-rated doors between a dwelling and an inter-leading garage. The lack of a functioning auto-reverse on automated garage and driveway gates were are a huge safety risk – especially for children.
Graham said the widespread acceptance of wall and slab cracks as a normal occurrence were another indication of slipping building standards in South Africa. He said that such widespread cracking of housing units need not be the case if the regulations regarding soil classification, waterproofing and foundation footing design were properly followed.
He said that while problem soils existing in all of the country’s metropolitan areas, soil classification and appropriate foundation and slab design would eliminate most wall and slab cracks. Instead, because the regulations were flouted by many builders and designers a high percentage of new housing units cracked within the first few years – so much so that this level of cracking had become the new “norm”.