The Msikaba Bridge Project near Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape recorded 3 million Lost Time Injury (LTI) Free hours on 21 October 2022. This is a considerable achievement given that the bridge involves intricate construction operations of a type rarely – if ever – seen before in South Africa.
The Msikaba Bridge, which will span the 198 m deep Msikaba River gorge, forms part of the South African National Roads Agency Limited’s (SANRAL) N2 Wild Coast project and is being constructed by the CME JV, a partnership between Concor and MECSA, two 9CE 100% black owned South African companies. On completion, it will have the longest main span constructed by the cable-stay method in Africa.
Commenting on the Msikaba Project’s safety performance, Concor’s Mike Luus, HSE manager on the contract, says it has been achieved by detailed planning of the complex construction procedures required on the project. This has left absolutely nothing to chance, combined with intense training of the workforce, which has mainly been drawn from local communities.
“Msikaba lies in an undeveloped rural area which presents few work opportunities,” he says. “The result is that most of our recruits had no experience of working in the formal sector when they joined us. We have had to take them from zero knowledge of construction to the point where they could be safely deployed on what is, without question, one of the most technically advanced construction projects currently underway anywhere in the world.”
Elaborating, Luus says the challenges at Msikaba include working in deep, sometimes confined, excavations going down as much as 20 m (about six storeys deep) and working at height on the bridge’s two pylons, which will ultimately reach 127 m ( about 38 storeys high) above ground level.
“In addition, we will soon be busy with deck construction, working with two giant 160 t gantries that will place the steel deck segments, with an average weight of 83 tonnes, in position above the gorge. This will be a very involved procedure, involving multiple operations. To complicate matters, we will very likely have to contend with strong winds on occasion.”
All the training required for Msikaba, both theoretical and practical, is conducted on site. In preparation for some operations, mock-up facilities have been built. “For example, we erected a tower so that trainees can practice climbs and be exposed to a variety of scenarios that might be encountered,” Luus says.
Luus heads a team numbering 12 people, which is backed up by full-time paramedics. He is based on the south bank of the gorge so much of his management has to be done remotely although he can now cross the gorge, when required, in a few minutes using a cableway installed in 2021. Prior to this, getting to the other side of the gorge usually entailed a road journey of more than two hours.
Interestingly, Luus’s duties even extend to ensuring that there are no snake bites. “We encounter around 30 snakes – most of them venomous vine snakes, boomslang and night adders – every summer and these have to be safely removed from the site,” he says. “We have even come across these snakes high up in our scaffolding!”
He also has to ensure that the local community-based sub-contractors – there are about 40 in all – working on the project adhere to the same safety standards that apply to the JV. “We give them training and mentoring as necessary and these efforts have been very successful,” he says.
Luus says Msikaba’s excellent safety record owes much to Concor’s unremitting focus on safety, expressed in its philosophy of ‘Stop, Think. Act’ and its care values – ‘Care for one another, Care for yourself and take Care in the environment you are working in’. “I’ve had excellent support from our management in Johannesburg and also, of course, from our project director, Laurence Savage, project manager, Jaco Verreynne and indeed all senior managers on site.”
The safety of the Msikaba site is audited on a monthly basis by SANRAL, the client on the project, and the JV’s audit score is routinely at 97 or 98 % each month. “This is an excellent score and we’ll be doing our level best to maintain it right through to the completion of the project,” says Luus.