Parliament: Older buildings with high fire risks must have critical safety features under proposed law changes

SCDF officers putting out a fire that broke out on the facade of the building at 30 Toh Guan Road on May 4, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Older buildings as well as those whose occupants are at a higher risk in the event of a fire may soon be required by law to install critical fire safety features to keep up with the latest Fire Code.

So far, some 500 buildings have been identified as requiring these features. This is based on the fact that they were built before the 1991/2002 Fire Code, have a higher occupancy load, and the profile of its occupants.

For example, International Plaza in Anson Road has not undergone additions and alterations works since it was constructed in 1976.

While the high-rise commercial and residential building is compliant with the 1974 Fire Code, it lacks exit staircases that lead to outdoor areas, which would be safer for evacuees in the event of a fire emergency.

To allow building owners to meet the requirements, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it will exercise flexibility in the implementation on a case-by-case basis.

This means that the SCDF may accept alternative solutions or grant time extensions to allow building owners to meet the requirements.

The requirements are part of proposed key changes to the Fire Safety Act tabled by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Parliament on Monday (July 8).

The Bill also proposes the creation of new offences to target contractors and suppliers of non-compliant fire safety products or materials in buildings.

Those who knowingly use or cause the use of such materials may be fined $100,000 and face a jail term of up to two years, while those who negligently use or cause the use of such materials may be fined $50,000 if no harm was caused.

Currently, the law stipulates that building owners can be prosecuted for the use of materials or products that are not compliant with fire safety codes. However, supply chain actors such as contractors and suppliers are not mentioned in existing law.

These proposed offences come after fatalities from building fires in Singapore and other countries such as Britain in recent years, most notably the fire at London's Grenfell Tower in June 2017 that killed 71 people.

It was later found that the external cladding of the British building had accelerated the spread of the blaze.

In May that same year, a 54-year-old woman died in Singapore after fire broke out in an eight-storey industrial complex in Toh Guan Road.

Investigations by the SCDF found that the building and 35 others in Singapore were using external cladding that may not adhere to safety standards in the Fire Code. The SCDF said it would propose legislation to hold errant parties responsible for the use of such panels.

Another proposed amendment included in the Bill on Monday is the enhancement of the enforcement and investigative powers of the SCDF.

This would allow them to immediately prosecute building owners for serious fire hazards such as overcrowding, non-maintenance of fire safety measures and the obstruction of escape routes.

These fire hazards are typically found at public entertainment outlets and shopping centres, especially during seasonal festivities.

Currently, the SCDF can take action against errant building owners only when Fire Hazard Abatement Notices are not complied with.

Two new offences to prosecute non-qualified persons who impersonate industry professionals, such as registered inspectors and fire safety engineers, to supervise and certify that fire safety works meet SCDF standards were also proposed in the Bill on Monday.

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