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SA building regulations inadequate

25 Aug 2014

South Africa needs a wake-up call with regards to the policing of its building standards for residential housing.

The industry faces cost-cutting measures which include weak concrete and mortar mixes, lack of sufficient steel reinforcement in foundations, slabs and walls and a failure to use trained and properly supervised labour for house building and roof construction.

This is according to John Graham, CEO of HouseCheck, who was speaking in the wake of the collapse of a double storey house in Alberton, which killed seven people.

He says South Africa’s building regulations are among the finest in the world, but enforcement of these regulations is abysmal. Compounding the problem is the dearth of proper on-site supervision and the concomitant collapse of the apprentice training system.

Graham says coming in the wake of the recent Tongaat Mall collapse, this latest building failure clearly demonstrates how dangerous shoddy building practice really is. He says concrete slabs and roof structures are heavy and yet they are often erected by untrained labour without adequate design and supervision.

Graham lists the major issues facing the residential building industry:

  • There is a lack of careful foundation design, which should take into account a proper analysis of the soil on which the home is being built. He says most populated areas of South Africa have soil problems.
     
  • The industry faces cost-cutting measures which include weak concrete and mortar mixes, lack of sufficient steel reinforcement in foundations, slabs and walls and a failure to use trained and properly supervised labour for house building and roof construction.
     
  • South Africa has a weak and ineffective building inspectorate. Graham points out that there is currently no national accredited training for building inspectors. He says the training and qualifications of many municipal inspectors is lacking; the NHBRC is stretched and does not provide adequate policing of building works and the private home inspection industry has so far struggled to obtain recognition and support from the government, banks and real estate industry.

Graham calls for a national indaba between the public and private sector to get its act together regarding the policing and enforcement of the national building regulations and the building practice manuals of the NHBRC.

He says the home inspection industry for new and existing housing is large, well-trained and properly regulated in most developed countries but not so in South Africa.

“In an effort to address this problem, HouseCheck has written and made available online the SAHITA home inspection training course. This course is specially developed to address South African building conditions and regulations.” Graham says SAHITA has been in discussion with government agencies such as the EAAB, NHBRC, Department of Human Settlements and the Department of Higher Education for several years in its efforts to establish a properly accredited home inspection training programme. So far these efforts have not been fruitful, he says.

“Perhaps the latest building tragedy and a growing recognition of the huge job creation potential of a regulated and trained building inspection industry may finally spur the government and industry stakeholders on to cooperate and join hands in addressing the problem.”

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