The investigation into the deadly Bank of Lisbon fire in 2018 revealed that it could have been prevented if provincial government departments had complied with safety legislation ensuring effective fire prevention.
Panyaza Lesufi, Premier of Gauteng, this week submitted and made public the report on the various investigations at the provincial legislature.
The Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg caught fire more than five years ago. The fire ultimately claimed the lives of three firefighters.
The offices of the Gauteng Department of Health, as well as the Department of Human Settlements, Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs, were in this building.
The Department of Labor launched an investigation into the incident and handed over the findings to Lesufi. A forensic report was also compiled by TFS Africa Forensics, in collaboration with the Johannesburg emergency service, and the law firm Harris Nupen Molebatsi gave a legal opinion on the findings.
According to Jack Bloom, the DA’s spokesman on health in Gauteng, the report accused the two departmental offices of breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act by failing to carry out the risk assessment which would have “classified the fire risk as life-threatening do not have”. If the risk assessment had been done, it would have “recommended remedies for the safety of (the departments’) employees”.
It was found that the fire in the office of adv. Mpelegeng Lebeloane, chief director of legal services for Gauteng’s department of health, arose – possibly from a heater that was placed near flammable materials.
According to the fire brigade, the fire could have been extinguished if an automatic fire suppression system had been installed. Another problem was fire hoses that didn’t work.
Harris Nupen Molebatsi lawyers cited cases of misconduct and said it could lead to disciplinary action against certain individuals.
“The lawyers say there could be a prima facie case of negligence against Lebeloane because she failed to exercise due care by leaving a heater in her office near flammable materials,” says Bloom.
“However, there are contradictions about the origin of the fire in her office.”
Bloom says it is unacceptable that “despite investigations that were completed a long time ago, the provincial government has made no effort to discipline negligent staff”.
“The DA calls on authorities to take disciplinary action in this matter, as well as against those who failed to comply with occupational safety legislation that could have prevented this devastating fire,” he says.
However, without the police’s complete investigation into the incident, there is little expectation that action will soon be taken against the culprits.
According to Lesufi, the release of the reports was delayed because the Department of Labor’s investigation was completed late, and the police investigation is pending.
“Because it is a criminal case, the police’s findings are awaited because the investigation is still ongoing,” he says.
However, Bloom says the investigations should have been concluded a long time ago.
“It is shameful that it is taking so long, because the families of the deceased are demanding accountability and justice.”
According to Lesufi, the Department of Health and the Department of Human Settlements, Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs are indeed checking the reports so that corrective action can be taken.
“The local municipality also received the report to determine which gaps in the city need attention,” he says.
“To guarantee that each facility complies with the necessary safety legislation, the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development, which oversees all government buildings in the province, also processes the report’s findings.”