The Department of Labour is probing a possible case of negligence after two patients died at the Umhlanga Hospital, north of Durban, when a fire broke out in a ward.

The department said yesterday it was conducting a full-scale occupational health and safety investigation after the deaths.

Twenty-four patients and members of staff were treated for injuries and smoke inhalation.

Labour department spokesperson Page Boikanyo said the probe would establish the cause of the tragedy, including any possible negligence or any flouting of occupational health and safety measures.

The two patients died after a fire swept through the surgical ward on Monday. The fire is suspected of having been caused by a gas leak.

The surgical ward and the medical ward on the first floor have since been closed. Patients from these wards have been moved to other sections of the hospital.

"The functioning of fire warning systems, smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, safe evacuation procedures, hand-held fire extinguishers at strategic locations, emergency escapes and compliance with electrical installation regulations will be checked. The maintenance and implementation of all these procedures, systems and equipment will also be scrutinised," Boikanyo said.

Ian Goble of Netcare said the extent of the damage has not been determined yet.