‘Unsafe’ customs building should not be in use, says report

Frontage of the new building, with large central white window

Cool looks: but inside, it’s roasting. Picture by Vince Thompson

St Helena’s new customs building is not safe and should not be in use, a report has warned.

Staff have also struggled in unacceptable working conditions, says the report by St Helena Audit Service, and design failures cause risks of injury and even potential security breaches.

It adds: “Questions need to be asked across St Helena Government as to why a building with known health and safety issues has been allowed to be used by SHG and the general public.”

St Helena Government says the building was inspected by the fire service, the environmental health department and a building inspector before staff moved into the upper floor.

None of them appear to have raised concerns about the safety problems identified in the audit report.

The value-for-money review also exposes serious management failings that mean the customs complex is not likely to be fully open until December 2012, a year behind schedule.

Rear view, showing a tree that is causing damage, and inadequate safety rails

An audit found safety risks. Picture: Vince Thompson

Concerns about the safety of the customs and passenger terminal include a lack of handrails on the main stairs, unsuitable safety rails, glass that is not shatter-proof, and excessive room temperatures caused by a lack of air conditioning.

The audit report quotes St Helena Government’s own chartered surveyor, who wrote:

“As the building is currently, I do not believe it should be in use and certainly not open to the public.”

Colin Owen, the report’s author, adds: “If these safety concerns are not addressed immediately, SHG are leaving themselves open to potential costly liability claims and this is an unacceptable financial risk.”

The audit report also details structural problems, including cracks throughout the building.

It says numerous changes to the plans mean the building fails to meet the needs of the customs service.

“There is evidence that some of the changes made in the design and build are highly questionable and could be seen as cost cutting to save funds,” it says.

“The entrance and exit doors from the customs hall [do] not allow the hall to be secured after passenger movements, and with people and bags moving through there is a high risk of injury and accident to the public and staff.

“The lack of handrails fitted to the staircase in this building is a serious health and safety issue and handrails should have been installed before allowing staff to occupy the premises.

“Unsuitable safety rails have been fitted to the rear of the building; they have no vertical pieces and would not stop people falling to the ground below.

“Glass used in the main customs hall is not shatter proof.

“As the building stands there are a number of health and safety concerns which still need to be addressed. To rectify these concerns will take additional resources and time, resulting in further delays to the project.”

  • Vince Thompson is writing an assessment of management failures detailed in the audit report. His analysis can be found in The St Helena Independent of 31 August 2012.
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