Daily terror for govt staff in dodgy office tower
Secret documents show the building that was hit by a bomb in the 1980s is a serious occupational hazard
Holes in the walls, sewage seeping through walls and the roof and speeding lifts are just some of the hazards workers at the national headquarters of Correctional Services say they have to deal with every day.
According to confidential documents seen by Times Select, the Pretoria building, which houses Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha's office, is a serious fire hazard.
The building was the target of a bomb attack in the 1980s, which is said to have caused long-standing structural damage.
Yet, despite both internal and external health and safety inspection reports, written throughout 2016 and 2017, the department continues, on a month-to-month basis, to rent the 32-storey Poynton's building from its owners, Delta Property Fund (DPF).
Confidential documents and reports by the City of Tshwane and the department’s own facilities section point to a litany of hazards.The DPF says it bought the building in a state of disrepair. The company says it has implemented recommendations made by the city's fire chief and is consulting with both the city and department over the reports.
Department spokesperson Logan Maistry said the department, along with the Public Works Department, had engaged with the landlord and established a plan to comply with all occupational health and safety regulations and requirements.
He said the occupational health and safety imperatives were obligatory and remedial action by the landlord was being implemented to ensure they were met.
Maistry denied that the department had deliberately ignored the City of Tshwane and its own internal directives.
“A task team has been established in order to achieve a permanent solution for suitable accommodation.”
On Thursday, staff who work in the Poynton's building protested over the hazards.
Jonathon Khosa, Popcru chairperson at the department's headquarters, said the building had been structurally damaged by a bomb attack in the 1980s.He said the department, which he claimed paid nearly R5-million a month in rent, and the owners had put up notices saying people entered the building at their own risk.
Neither The DPF nor the department would confirm the R5-million amount to Times Select, with the former saying only that it was charging competitive rates.
“Instead of addressing serious health and safety issues, they shift the blame to staff if they get hurt,” said Khosa.
He said that recently a lift fell from 15th floor to the ground floor. “People were stuck inside. It’s just a miracle no one was killed.”
Yvonne Monageng said she injured her back and neck recently when the lift suddenly rose from the sixth to the 27th floor instead of going to the ground floor.
“We were shaken about. The lift went up with such speed. We tried to get the lift to stop but couldn’t.
“It was terrifying. We were screaming for help, but no one came.”
She said the door eventually opened and they were able to get out.Molefi Leboko, who works in the building, said there are holes in the walls.
He said a new contractor came in to install some firefighting equipment but some of the holes had been there for longer than six months – even before the contractor came in.
“We are very scared because if you look at some (of these holes) which are on the 31st floor, they go straight down to the bottom.
“Sometimes we bring our children from school here and if the child falls in through that hole what is going to happen?”
Asked who had made the holes, he said they were there before the contractor arrived.
“Maybe they were made by our people trying to correct things,” he suggested, adding that they had never been fixed.
He said there were many such holes on different floors in the building.Helena du Toit of the Public Service Association, who works in the building, said the building was in bad shape.
“When the (toilet) pipes burst, sewage comes through the roof and walls into offices from the bathrooms.
“When it rains, water leaks through the roof onto the ceiling lights. That’s just a few of the things which happen here.”
A confidential department report, written in December 2017, reveals that back in February 2016, the Tshwane chief fire officer had found:
• The fire emergency systems did not work;
• Escape routes were obstructed;
• The building did not have an emergency generator; and
• The firemen's lift did not work.
The report reads: “On 19 October 2016, the chief fire officer of Tshwane issued the department with a final notice due to non-compliance with fire regulations.”
It further states that the department's occupational health and safety office, security standards and deputy director of auxiliary services conducted further inspections at the building and identified inadequate emergency preparedness, structural defects, roof leaks, recurring blocked sewerage pipes and the potential for serious diseases caused by sewage leaks.
The document warns of financial implications for the department should staff or visitors sustain injuries, and recommends penalties be instituted against the landlord, that engineers assess the building's structural safety, and alternative accommodation be considered.Another department report, written in October 2017, refers to the frequent malfunctionioning of lifts and electricity supplies.
“Over-utilisation of the building contributes to over-utilisation of services, which causes frequent breakdown of services.”
It says that while the department is looking to build new headquarters, “which will most probably be delivered within the next four financial years”, relocation to another building in the interim will “not be feasible due to the extent of relocation costs”.
Delta Property Fund chief operating officer Otis Tshabalala said they had acquired the “asset in a state of disrepair in April 2016”.
“At the time, the building passed the regulatory safety compliance tests, but the Tshwane health and safety inspector raised some concerns with us as the new owners at the time.”
He said a contractor was appointed in November 2016 to implement the necessary upgrades, but filed for liquidation, and a new contractor had to be appointed.
“They commenced with the upgrades in September 2017. The expected completion date is 31 October 2018.”
Tshabalala said that while it was a landlord’s responsibility to provide safe buildings, when it came to occupational health and safety the landlord and tenant shared the responsibility.
“The matters raised by the city fire chief's office were rectified within 21 days of receiving the recommendations. The asset is structurally safe, fit for occupation. Routine structural inspections are carried out.”