Unsafe Practices in Nigerian Banks


…Lack of Safety in Banking Halls, Putting Customers and Staff at risk

Sometime in 2017, Eyiwumi Dada, a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), went inside the banking hall of one of Nigeria’s top new-generation banks in Alimosho area of Lagos to make a deposit.

She was standing on a fairly long queue and before her were over 20 customers eagerly waiting their turn to be attended to by the cashiers. Suddenly, she slumped.

A curious customer asked the bank’s female security guard for the first-aid box or staff in charge of Health and Safety and the guard replied that there was neither.

The security guard proceeded to collect the corps member’s money with a promise to deposit it on her behalf before the victim set out of the banking hall.

The unrelenting curious customer notices there was no emergency exit because there was no visible indication of one and the procedure to follow in case of any emergency.

This sprung up an often overlooked but nonetheless very important issue in this country: the sanctity of human lives. Risk, safety and security in the banking industry are critical elements, not only for the banking sector, but also for the customers.

Safety can be both physical and structural; the public expects to feel personally safe in a bank and they expect a bank to take the necessary measures to ensure their safety on banking premises.

Banks in Nigeria are always a beehive of activity. With full cashless banking operation yet to take a strong foothold in the country, most of the transactions are done over the counter. This ensures that most banking halls, no matter how wonderful they make their advertisements sound on how speedily they dispense with customers, are always crowded with queues that take various shapes.

In this piece Safety Record Newspaper investigates health and safety standard of customers in Nigeria banks and highlighted bank safety related accidents around the globe.

According to a 2013 Security Today report, four women were in April 2013 killed in a fire accident at a bank building in Coimbatore, a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The fire which started on the third floor of the building at 10:15am took the combined efforts of twelve fire engines two hours to douse.

Also, in June 2013, four employees of a bank in Mumbai, India died of asphyxiation when a fire broke out on the first floor of its seven-storey building. The fire which started in the depositary section also left nine employees injured. The building had an all glass façade with little ventilation that ensured that smoke killed just as effective as fire would have.

The fire officials said the building has no fire emergency exit and so bank employees and customers remained trapped while men scaled to the terrace for safety.

One of the most effective ways to ensure that a workplace is safe is to have a well-thought out crisis management plan in place. Part of this means taking the time to identify all emergency-exit routes.

According to safety stakeholders, there are three parts of an emergency exit route: exit access – leads to an exit, exit – allows for safe travel to the exit discharge and exit discharge – leads to the street.

They explained that the standard required number of emergency exit route of an organisation depends on the number of employees and size of the building.

The only exception to this rule, they added, applies to smaller business where individuals can exit safely in the event of an emergency and in the case one route is acceptable.

Safety Record Newspaper’s investigation revealed that 10 percent of bank branches visited in Lagos State have their emergency exit on sight but were under heavy lock while 90 percent of banks don’t have their emergency exit route on sight, which is very dangerous to customers in case of emergency alert. Investigations also revealed that the branches office don’t have a certified safety officer which pose more dangers to lives of customers and staff at large.

When contacted, a branch manager of one of the banks in Alimosho LGA who spoke on the condition of anonymity with Safety our correspondent said there is no safety department or safety officer in their branches but such portfolio exists in their head office.

He explained that in the branches the security guards were adequately trained on general health and safety practices and therefore saddled with the responsibility of handling safety-related matters.

“If there is any fire emergency that warrants the evacuation of the customers out of the bank premises, the security will lead all the customers out through the emergency exit because they are well trained.”

A branch manager of another bank in the LGA who also pleaded anonymity said the emergency exit that was on under lock was a safety measure to prevent burglary.

During this two-day long investigation, it was observed that most banks do not have their fire exits in an open location where customers can easily sight them for escape in case of emergency, while the banks that have fire exits put them under heavy lock and key, posing a potential risk to bank staff and customers.

Safety experts say it is an established fact that any closed venue with high density inflow of people needs to have a fully-functional fire safety system to guard against fire accidents. The reasons for these are of course manifold.

According to the President of National Industrial Safety Council of Nigeria (NISCN), Dr. Reginald Anyanwu, 99.9 percent of banks in Nigeria do not have emergency response procedure in terms of fire to ensure safety of workers and the customers.

Nigeria banks hardly considered safety of lives and customers in the banks, but instead invest a lot on security, he noted.

Anyanwu further noted that the requirement is that for every facility there must be emergency exit route for people to be evacuated in case of fire or any emergency situation.

“99.9 percent of the banks install tiles that are unsafe on the staircase. Those polished tiles are very unsafe; people slip on them.

“If banks consider health and safety of their workers and customers, they should be able to install internationally-recommended tiles.

“(It is) not only (for) security of money, but safety and health of the customers,” he stressed.

The NISCN president stated that the banks were committing a breach by not having safety officers, adding that only safety professionals know the requirements of the law and know how to evacuate in an emergency case.

He advised that banks must involve a licensed safety professional as consultant and have safety professionals as staff.