Orchard Road mall death

Orchard Road mall death: Teen’s fall sparks safety discussion

Some experts say extra warning signs can improve safety; others say barriers suffice

Jonathan Chow Hua Guang,17, died after he fell from the fourth storey of the Orchard Central mall on Feb 24, 2017.

An incident involving a teenager who died after a fall at an Orchard Road mall last week has sparked discussion about safety measures in buildings.

Last Friday, 17-year-old Jonathan Chow Hua Guang fell four floors to his death from a linkway between Orchard Central and Orchard Gateway, after he jumped over a barrier and onto a plasterboard casing ledge that was not meant to be load-bearing.

It collapsed when he landed on it.

Jonathan's father, Mr Matthew Chow, had called for more safety measures in buildings. The barrier at the linkway is 1.2m high.

Experts noted that Orchard Central's owner, Far East Organization, had complied with safety standards and building codes.

Yet, extra precautions may be helpful, said some experts.

Dr Goh Yang Miang, who chairs the health and safety engineering technical committee at The Institution of Engineers, Singapore, said that such "boxed-up architectural features" could look like solid ledges and be potentially accessed despite safety barriers.

Warning signs could improve safety, he said.

"However, such signs are not foolproof as they rely on users to heed the warnings."

Dr Goh also noted that under the Design for Safety regulations which came into force last August, developers, designers and contractors must plan for the safe building and maintenance of projects which have appointed a designer.

This includes expectations for developers and designers to identify hazards, and eliminate or mitigate them as much as possible, said Dr Goh.

While Orchard Central was designed before this date, abiding by such regulations can reduce the risk of similar accidents.

For example, factories often lock up casings used to hide wires or cables, to stop workers or maintenance staff walking on them by mistake, noted National Safety Council of Singapore deputy president Fong Kim Choy.

Similarly, engineers build spikes alongside non load-bearing structures used to contain pipes or cables that run through them, he said.

SIM University Human Factors in Safety programme head Chui Yoon Ping said a "false perception" may be created when the structure in question - long, solid, flat and wide - looked like a concrete structure that can bear weight.

"Say, for example, if it was thinner or slanted at an angle, or narrower, or looks flimsy - someone would think twice before standing on it or jumping on it,"she said.

However, architect John Ting said that instances in which extra precautions are taken to prevent accidents involving such structures are "exceptional situations".

"It is difficult to fault the designer or the owner of the building, as it is understood that everything that lies beyond a barrier poses a risk."

Agreeing, architect Zahidi Abdul Rahman said adding extra safety measures, such as warning signs, would be superfluous.

"The barrier is more than sufficient to tell people that this is something that they should not cross over. Accidents are unfortunate, but common sense should prevail, and we should not over-regulate."

The Building and Construction Authority said building features such as ledges that are non-load bearing and made of lightweight material are not considered structural elements, and therefore are not regulated.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline Orchard Road mall death: Teen’s fall sparks safety discussion. Subscribe