Bad workmanship may be to blame for building incidents

I am greatly concerned by recent reports of cracks appearing in the walls of buildings, and of plaster cladding detaching and falling from a height ("Heed tell-tale signs of wall cracks" by Mr Steven Lo Chock Fei, Dec 21; and "Plaster slab falls from HDB block in Hougang", Nov 29).

Although these incidents do not necessarily indicate any loss of actual structural integrity, they are highly suggestive of poor workmanship.

For instance, plaster applied to the side of a building uses an adhesive known as render - a mix of sand, cement and water - which, when properly applied and hardened, allows the plaster to become an integral part of the surface.

If contractors were to use a substandard mix, the resulting mixture would not convert to render but, as described by chartered building surveyor Peter Fall, remain as "sand and cement failing to stick to the block".

Similarly, "if the wall doesn't absorb any moisture, the mixture converts to render and sets hard, but it doesn't stick to the bricks".

In essence, any deviation in the concoction of render would alter the characteristics of the material, likely resulting in premature failure.

If workmen have not been conscientious in fashioning the facade of a structure, it is not a stretch to surmise that other parts of the construction may also have been compromised.

Erecting the structures that people live and work in is a vital task that demands strong professionalism and close attention to detail.

Builders must adhere strictly to the building and construction codes, maintain a minimum standard of workmanship, and introduce adequate quality-control measures.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline 'Bad workmanship may be to blame for building incidents'. Print Edition | Subscribe