Improve HDB building regulations to protect people with disabilities

The recent report about the fire at Block 8, North Bridge Road, highlights a clear risk for persons with disabilities living in high-rise residential buildings (Para-archer rescued after fire starts outside his flat; March 23).

The current design of Housing Board blocks and its building regulations do not do enough to protect the elderly and people with disabilities.

HDB blocks do not have firefighting lifts, which could be used for evacuation of people who are unable to use the fire stairs, or wheelchair refuge spaces for a temporary protected area to wait for assistance. On the other hand, private condominiums and commercial buildings exceeding 26m in height are required to have all of these features.

It makes little sense for high-rise condominiums to have firefighting lifts connected to backup generators and yet not have any such provisions for HDB blocks, even as some tower at 40 storeys. This disparity in building regulations needs to be addressed to ensure safety in our high-rise residential buildings.

While the building regulations mitigate the risk of fire spreading in residential buildings by considering each apartment as its own fire compartment, the reality is that this does not address the need to evacuate that apartment or provide a means to alert and rescue occupants. We cannot assume that the elderly and disabled people will have family members or neighbours to assist them in an emergency.

A fire can break out at any time of day or night. Fires in tall buildings such as the Grenfell Tower in London last year should teach us that such disasters are a very possible reality rather than a statistical uncertainty.

The Disabled People's Association urges the Building and Construction Authority, the Singapore Civil Defence Force and HDB to work together to address this very critical safety issue.

We must formulate a practical strategy to protect the elderly and disabled residents living in high-rise buildings.

In an inclusive society, equality must include the right of access and the safe right of egress for all people, including the disabled.

Richard Chien-Ming Kuppusamy

President

Disabled People's Association

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2018, with the headline 'Improve HDB building regulations to protect people with disabilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe