Graaff-Reinet Advertiser - - Voorblad -

A dre­ad­ful ac­ci­dent that clai­med the li­ves of two municipal employees in Graaff-rei­net on T­hurs­day af­ter­noon, 22 No­vem­ber, is being in­ves­ti­ga­ted to de­ter­mi­ne if all sa­fe­ty pro­ce­du­res w­he­re fol­lo­wed.

The men died w­hen a te­am of six, un­der the su­per­vi­si­on of an ex­pe­rien­ced plum­ber, went to fix a dys­functi­o­nal se­wa­ge pump ne­ar Van der Byl S­treet in the in­dus­tri­al a­rea, short­ly af­ter 15:00.

Ob­vi­ous­ly an un­ple­a­sant task, the men get paid a bo­nus of R1 500 e­very ti­me t­hey ha­ve to en­ter the se­wa­ge manhole, which is u­su­al­ly on­ce a month, and the task nor­mal­ly ta­kes less than an hour.

Ac­cor­ding to a wit­ness who pre­fers to re­main a­no­ny­mous, e­ver­y­thing see­med nor­mal on the day. The first em­ploy­ee to en­ter the pit was Seun S­choltz, who took with him a buc­ket to cle­ar the se­wa­ge so that the wor­kers could get access to the faul­ty pump.

W­hen he had not re­tur­ned in the ex­pected ti­me, Ashwell Jap­h­ta re­a­li­sed so­mething must be wrong, and jum­ped in­si­de to res­cue S­choltz - in vain, as neither man sur­vi­ved.

It ap­pears that both men in­ha­led the humid hot gas­ses in­si­de the manhole, and re­cei­ved w­hat is thoug­ht to be che­mi­cal burns. The Ad­ver­ti­ser was told that the en­ti­re to­wn's hu­man and in­dus­tri­al was­te g­oes through that par­ti­cu­lar manhole.

On­ce the re­mai­ning mem­bers of the te­am re­a­li­sed that di­sas­ter had be­fal­len their col­le­a­gues, no­ne we­re wil­ling to en­ter the manhole, and se­ver­al hours pas­sed be­fo­re e­mer­gen­cy ser­vi­ces we­re a­ble to re­co­ver the bo­dies of Jap­h­ta and S­choltz.

The four employees who sur­vi­ved the or­de­al re­cei­ved trau­ma coun­sel­ling and we­re book­ed off at work for a day. Ac­cor­ding to a friend, the su­per­vis­or has al­so been se­ver­e­ly trau­ma­ti­sed by the tra­ge­dy and has been fier­ce­ly de­fen­si­ve of his te­am w­hen rumours star­ted that the de­ce­a­sed wor­kers had been drunk, which he vehe­ment­ly de­nies. It has been al­le­ged that the men in the te­am had no pro­tecti­ve clo­thing or mas­ks as a sa­fe­ty pre­cau­ti­on a­gainst the gas­ses and che­mi­cals in the pit.

Lo­cal la­bour law practi­ti­o­ner A­mos M­cin­ga told the Ad­ver­ti­ser that ac­cor­ding to the Occu­pa­ti­o­nal He­alth and Sa­fe­ty Act of 1993, the em­ploy­er is re­qui­red to bring a­bout and main­tain, as far as re­a­so­na­bly practi­ca­ble, a work en­vi­ron­ment that is sa­fe and wit­hout risk to the he­alth of the wor­kers.

“If the al­le­ga­ti­ons con­cer­ning the lack of pro­tecti­ve clo­thing and mas­ks are true, then it would seem that the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty has fai­led dis­mal­ly in this re­gard,” said M­cin­ga. “Employees should not be sent in­to ris­ky and dan­ge­rous si­tu­a­ti­ons wit­hout he­alth and sa­fe­ty con­si­de­ra­ti­ons.”

The De­part­ment of La­bour con­ducted a pre­li­mi­na­ry in­ves­ti­ga­ti­on on F­ri­day, the day af­ter the ac­ci­dent, and will be hol­ding an of­fi­ci­al in­qui­ry. Ashwell Jap­h­ta was 41 y­e­ars of age, mar­ried, with three child­ren un­der the age of 21. Seun S­choltz, 29, al­so le­a­ves young child­ren to grow up wit­hout a fat­her.

In a re­le­a­se is­su­ed by the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty's acting com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons of­fi­cer, Wil­ca S­mith, it was sta­ted that the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty is sad­de­ned by the two employees’ de­ath.

“The ac­ci­dent is cur­rent­ly being in­ves­ti­ga­ted and upon com­ple­ti­on, the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty will is­sue a sta­te­ment,” said S­mith.

“As col­le­a­gues of the de­ce­a­sed who u­nex­pected­ly pas­sed a­way, we are dis­tres­sed and dis­con­cer­ted in the com­pa­ny as we are still co­ming to terms with the loss. Our most sin­ce­re com­mi­se­ra­ti­ons to the fa­mi­lies and friends of both the de­ce­a­sed.”

S­pea­king on be­half of the lo­cal De­mo­cra­tic Al­li­an­ce cau­cus, Cl­lr Sa­man­tha Gra­ham said the DA is dee­ply sad­de­ned con­cer­ning the de­at­hs, and wis­hes to ex­press its con­do­len­ces to the fa­mi­lies and lo­ved on­es of the men.

“We trust that a tho­rough in­ves­ti­ga­ti­on will be con­ducted in­to the ci­r­cum­stan­ces that led to this tra­ge­dy, and should the­re be any e­vi­den­ce of malf­e­a­san­ce on the part of the Mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty, this will be ad­dres­sed ap­pro­pri­a­te­ly,” said Gra­ham.

“Our thoug­hts and pray­ers are with the fa­mi­ly through this sad ti­me."

The ma­yor’s of­fi­ce was al­so ap­pro­a­ched for com­ment, but no re­spon­se had been re­cei­ved at the ti­me of going to press.

The­re will be a me­mo­ri­al ser­vi­ce on F­ri­day, 30 No­vem­ber, for both men. It will be held in the A­lex Laing Hall in Kroon­va­le at 12:00. The fa­mi­lies of the de­ce­a­sed will an­noun­ce fu­ne­ral ar­ran­ge­ments at the ser­vi­ce.

Seun S­choltz (29). The se­wa­ge manhole in which Seun S­choltz and Ashwell Jap­h­ta lost their li­ves last week.

Ashwell Jap­h­ta (41).

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