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Inquiry Launched Into Building Collapse in Nigeria

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By the end of June, Nigerians will know what caused the June 2 collapse of a four-story building that killed four construction workers in the city of Onitsha, 482 kilometers from the capital, Abuja.

The Anglican Church of Nigeria was constructing the building. The church's Niger diocese and the government of Anambra state have set up parallel teams to probe the collapse. Construction experts have blamed several factors, including contractor incompetence and non-compliance to project specifications and standards.

The building is suspected to have been initially approved for just two stories. Unconfirmed reports also suggest that, before the collapse, too little cement was used in the structure's concrete.

“The committee made of professionals and experts also will certify the quality of work on the ongoing projects in the diocese to avert similar occurrences,” said Rev. Owen Nwokolo of the diocese. 

The collapsed building was an office block under construction at St. Christopher Anglican Church in Onitsha.

The government investigation also will assess the condition of two other buildings being constructed by the same Nigerian contractor, whose identity could not be immediately confirmed.

The government set up a tribunal of inquiry in 2013 to look into more a rise in collapses of both new and old structures, contending there were 130 incidents between 2007 and 2013, some with fatalities.

The probe team blamed non-compliance to a 2010 law that mandates rules for enhanced safety and work quality at construction projects and addresses the increasing number of non-qualified contractors passing as professionals.

However, in the past seven years, there have there been no prosecutions of offenders.

“Government agencies are empowered by the law to ensure quality construction but fail to achieve their goal because of political and administrative interventions,” said one probe-team official. “Often, residents apply for building permits to construct a one-story building but end constructing a four-story structure.”

An earlier report by Covenant University blamed the rise of building collapses on “non-compliance with existing laws and endemic poor work ethics of Nigerians at work.”

Meanwhile, South Africa's government has issued, after eight years of review, new construction regulations that provide a platform to address health and safety issues in the country’s building industry. The new rules amend rules issued last year.

The rules include mandatory registration of construction professionals who act as construction health and safety agents, managers or officers. They would have to take an exam to demonstrate competence before they are certified.

Further, the chief inspector in the country's public-works department will designate staff to examine safety systems and the previous safety records of companies that have high incident rates.

Contractors will be graded according to their record of compliance with occupational health and safety requirements as South Africa moves to place specific legal responsibilities on each party involved in a construction project, officials say.

The construction industry “is the heart and soul of South Africa's economy, but it continues to be bedevilled by poor health and safety management,” Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said. “We are satisfied that, with these regulations, we have addressed concerns raised by a number of stakeholders, including the Construction Industry Development Board."

She said the rule address health and safety "throughout all phases of a project."

According to Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, “It is unacceptable that, on average, two South African construction workers die every week.”

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