Wollongong Court House death trap

Wollongong Court House in Market St. Two reports say that urgent attention in a range of areas is needed to make the building safe. Picture: KIRK GILMOURWollongong Court House would be a potential death trap if a serious fire broke out, according to findings in two reports on worker and public safety.They cite a litany of fire code breaches including no smoke detectors, no sprinklers, emergency exit doors that do not open and exit signs that point people in the wrong direction.Also of concern, the gun room appears not to be bulletproof, posing a serious risk to staff and the public in the event of accidental discharge.”It is certainly one of the worst buildings I’ve seen for health and safety and that’s partly because of its age, size and layout,” said NSW Public Service Association occupational health and safety officer Shay Deguera, who compiled the second report.”I was surprised by what I found because it is a public building used by hundreds of people daily including public, office staff and judiciary.”His report followed one released by independent consultant Vic Lilli who was commissioned by the NSW Attorney General’s Department to report on the building’s compliance with existing standards.The initial report was in response to staff concerns over safety standards, particularly fire-related.Both reports agreed that urgent attention in a range of areas was needed to make the building safe and in line with the Building Code of Australia, emphasising in particular fire risks.A staff member who asked not to be named, said before anything major was done, fire experts and Wollongong City Council’s fire officer needed to inspect the building. But he said the department was dragging its heels.Lack of money in the budget is believed to be the reason for the delay.But the staff member said doing nothing was a recipe for disaster.”If fire breaks out you’d have a whole lot of people already confused by smoke and fire and they are hardly helped by exit doors that don’t open or signs that could send them back into the fire,” he said.”On top of that there are files dating back decades stored on the premises which would fan the fire.”He said accidental or intentional fires set by aggrieved defendants were not the only safety concern in the building, referring to the gun room’s inadequacies mentioned in Mr Deguera’s report.”Mr Deguera said he believed the walls to be of hollow gyprock with no bulletproofing.”The risk posed is that people using the gun room could accidentally discharge their weapon potentially injuring people nearby,” the report says.A department spokesperson said there was an ongoing program to ensure courts complied with fire safety regulations and it was undertaking a number of fire safety projects at Wollongong Court House.”Recently, the department upgraded the court’s exit sign system and updated fire evacuation procedures and manuals,” he said.”More than $50,000 will be spent on replacing and improving fire exit doors with the project to be completed in coming months.”There were also plans to further improve the building’s fire safety later this year with more work expected in 2012 and 2013.
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