Govt to tighten rules on facade inspection amid spate of accidents

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) confirmed it is currently reviewing the regulatory framework for the inspection of building facades to enhance public and building safety.
The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) confirmed it is currently reviewing the regulatory framework for the inspection of building facades to enhance public and building safety.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Government is preparing to impose tighter rules on building facades that will include requiring building managers to conduct regular inspections on windows, cladding and other external features.

Industry players told The Straits Times that they are now getting ready for a new legislative framework that will require regular full-scale visual inspections as well as close-up inspections of facades.

Visual inspections involve the use of binoculars or aerial drones from afar, while close-up inspections will require a qualified person (QP) to oversee inspection of facade issues.

The proposed rules were discussed at the Glasstech Asia and Fenestration Asia 2017 conferences held last week at Marina Bay Sands, and a course to certify "facade inspectors" - a class of qualified persons thus far unheard of in the industry - was recently started at the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy.

Currently, there is no legal requirement for building managers to inspect their building's envelope for flaws, defects and wear - a situation the managers said led to cases of buildings that have facades in dire need of repair or replacement. In recent months, there have a string of cases where cladding or other exterior features failed or fell off buildings.

When contacted, BCA confirmed it is currently reviewing the regulatory framework for the inspection of building facades to enhance public and building safety. It also acknowledged that it started a course in July to "raise knowledge and capability on facade inspection".

While the new legislation is yet to be announced, many building managers said they would welcome stricter regulation. They noted that too many owners and managers take shortcuts because the rules hold owners liable only in the event of accidents - like a panel falling on a passerby.

 

Singapore Glass Association chairman Gan Geok Chua said that nearly all recent cases of failing facades - falling glass panels or concrete features - could have been prevented had there been a proper inspection routine.

 

He added that some building managers or owners are desperate enough to take these risks because it costs money to frequently identify and resolve facade issues.

DP Architects technical director, Mr Mathieu Meur, who conducts the new BCA facade inspection course, agreed that the current practice leaves much to be desired: "The general attitude (today) is to wait for something to happen before calling in someone to inspect and fix the problem. The new regulations aim to correct this situation by making regular inspections of the facade compulsory."

Many warn, however, that inspections alone will not be the silver bullet to facade problems.

For example, in cases of the fire performance of certain exterior cladding material, the only effective way to check them is through tests on samples taken from the building. ST understands that the use of aluminium composite panels are currently being probed by the Singapore Civil Defence Force in the wake of a fire that killed one at 30, Toh Guan Road earlier this year. The blaze reportedly spread across multiple floors via the building's external cladding.

Ultimately, industry experts said more people will need to be aware that a building's facade isn't as sturdy as the building itself.

Said Singapore Safety Glass' business development manager Gary Lee: "Facility managers don't even know there is a problem with the facade because they do not go check, but even if they do, they are not trained to identify facade issues when it is right in front of them... Buildings are supposed to last a long time, perhaps around 99 years. But facade material, even glass, can last for only a decade or so - the length of the manufacturer's guarantee in most cases."


RECENT PUBLIC SAFETY INCIDENTS INVOLVING FACADES

2011: Seaview condominium lawsuit

The building's management corporation, acting on behalf of homeowners, sued the condo developers for defects in the common areas, including foul odours, damaged swimming pool tiles and falling concrete. In one incident, a metal trellis structure on the roof fell into the swimming pool, residents alleged.

2016: Falling cladding board at Circuit Road HDB

A cladding board made of calcium silicate fell off Block 51, Circuit Road. An investigation by the Marine Parade Town Council later found a loose connection of screws in some of the claddings on the building.

2016: Falling plaster at Hougang HDB

A plaster slab dislodged from Block 449, Hougang Avenue 10 and crashed to the ground. The Ang Mo Kio Town council found out that the slab fell as it had deteriorated due to exposure to weather over time.

2016: Dislodged concrete sunshade at Tampines HDB

A concrete feature on the fourth floor of Block 201E, Tampines Street 23 dislodged and landed askew on another sunshade below it. It was later found to have no reinforcement bars on one side. No one was hurt.

2016: "Waterfall" at Cradels condominium

A blocked drain at the Balestier condo's infinity pool led to the build-up of water, ultimately shattering some glass panels on the pool's facade. This created a sudden cascade of water to the carpark below.

2017: Falling aluminium panels at Indus Road HDB

Two aluminium panels fell off the exterior of the Block 77, Indus Road and hit the ground. Cordons were put up around the block, as well as two nearby blocks with similar panels. There were no reported injuries.

2017: Lightning? Or defect?

A piece of concrete fell 40 storeys from the roof of Trivelis condominium, a Design, Build and Sell Scheme project in Clementi, landing on a playground. No one was hurt. The developers allege that it was struck by lightning, but the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council disputed this claim.