36 buildings using cladding that may not meet standard

Cladding on T3 and T5 of Singapore Polytechnic on Aug 24, 2017.
Cladding on T3 and T5 of Singapore Polytechnic on Aug 24, 2017. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

But they are safe for occupancy, says SCDF, which is getting owners to replace the panels

A total of 36 buildings here, including an industrial complex in Toh Guan Road where a lethal fire broke out in May, are using external cladding that may not adhere to safety standards in the Fire Code.

Of these, 15 were confirmed to be using combustible cladding that allows flames to spread quicker than they are supposed to. They include the new Our Tampines Hub, parts of Singapore Polytechnic, and luxury condominiums The Peak @ Cairnhill I and II.

Checks are ongoing for the rest.

It prompted the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to announce yesterday that it will review the fire safety regulations and certification process for the use of composite panels in buildings.

The trigger was the Toh Guan fire, which killed a woman.

Preliminary police investigations found that another 40 buildings were using the same composite panels from American brand Alubond.

It was found that local distributor Chip Soon Aluminium had mixed up panels of differing safety standards at its warehouse. This means that buildings could be using external wall panels with less stringent flame-spread standards.

Of the 40, five have passed SCDF checks carried out over the past two weeks, 14 have failed, while 21 have yet to be tested.

A police report has been lodged by the SCDF, said the Ministry of Home Affairs and SCDF yesterday. "Action will be taken if there is evidence of criminal culpability," said the SCDF.

Despite the cladding concerns, the 40 buildings are safe for occupancy, it added.

It said it conducted fire safety assessments and deemed them safe for occupancy due to provisions such as sprinklers and fire alarms. It also considered factors such as the proximity of the cladding to possible ignition sources and the proportion of external walls with cladding.

The SCDF said it was working closely with the building owners to replace the composite panels on their buildings within two months.

It will be updating the list of affected buildings on its website.

Building owners and developers contacted yesterday said they will remove the panels as soon as possible, with some saying the exercise will be carried out today.

The distributor, Chip Soon Aluminium, said it was "shocked and dismayed" to learn that its panels did not meet the safety standard. It has ceased supplying Alubond here and has demanded a response from the manufacturer, United Arab Emirates-based Eurocon Building Industries FZE, it said.

The Toh Guan fire preceded two major fires in London's Grenfell Tower in June, and Dubai's Torch Tower earlier this month. Reports attributed the spread of the Grenfell and Dubai fires to the use of combustible external cladding.

Only a small number of Housing Board buildings use composite panels - and these are for the cladding of lift shaft exteriors. They have been found to be compliant with the rules, said the SCDF.

On Wednesday, The Straits Times found that the cladding panels at 30 Toh Guan Road had been removed.

Its building owner claimed the cladding panels were installed "in compliance with then existing fire safety guidelines".

ESR Funds Management chief executive Adrian Chui said: "As a precautionary measure, we have decided to remove the cladding from 30 Toh Guan in consultation with SCDF to ensure business operations can resume as soon as possible."

A coroner's inquiry later this year will look into the death of Madam Neo Siew Eng, 54, who worked on the fifth floor of 30 Toh Guan.

The case is the only one, out of 19,013 fires from January 2012 to June this year, to involve external walls.

Action will be taken if there is evidence of a crime, said the SCDF. Police investigations are ongoing.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2017, with the headline '36 buildings using cladding that may not meet standard'. Print Edition | Subscribe