Parliament: Building control law amended to improve safety of high-rise buildings in Singapore

More than 4,000 buildings are expected to be inspected annually, but landed houses are exempted from it.
More than 4,000 buildings are expected to be inspected annually, but landed houses are exempted from it.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Every seven years, buildings older than 20 years and above 13m tall - or roughly four storey high - have to engage a professional engineer or registered architect to inspect their facade.

Under this new rule, the required repairs must also be carried out within a specific period, under a law passed by Parliament on Friday (March 6).

More than 4,000 buildings are expected to be inspected annually, but landed houses are exempted from it.

The compulsory inspection is among several changes made to the Building Control Act that was passed by Parliament on Friday.

The others include improving the regulatory framework for lifts and escalators as well as requiring older buildings to provide easier access. These requirements are to meet the needs of a greying Singapore and people with disabilities.

The amendments will be implemented progressively from the second half of next year.

Explaining the move for compulsory inspection, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for National Development, said about 70 per cent of buildings in Singapore are more than 20 years old.

Although general maintenance works, such as simple repairs, general cleaning and painting of external walls, are already carried out regularly on building facades, there is a need to further improve standards, he told the House, when he presented the Building Control (Amendment) Bill for debate.

Every year in the last three years, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) received nearly 30 reports on falling facade elements. "Most were related to the wear and tear of the facade materials or connections," he added.

The inspection will help reduce the likelihood of rundown facades as buildings in Singapore age, he noted.

The other changes include improving the regulatory framework for lifts and escalators and requiring older buildings to provide easier access.

 
 
 

The BCA will set new requirements for the design and installation of lifts and escalators to reduce the likelihood of defects for safety reasons.

Lift and escalator owners will have to engage specialist professional engineers to certify the design plans, which are to be submitted to BCA for approval.

In the submission, BCA will require lift and escalator professionals to ensure that lift models and their key safety components are certified by independent certification bodies.

Singapore has about 70,000 lifts and 7,000 escalators.

Seven MPs spoke during the debate on the Bill, asking about the reliability of lifts in Singapore and if more can be done to boost the pool of local lift and escalator specialists.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said it was important to have a strong Singaporean core of trained lift specialists, "with attractive incentives for them to remain in this sector and make career progress".

Replying, Mr Zaqy said that in the last three years, the number of safety incidents arising from technical faults has been fewer than 30 a year.

He also touched on the aging workforce in the sector, saying the changes to the law will allow the Government to mandate a progressive wage model to attract and retain Singapore residents in the lift maintenance industry.

To date, about 40 lift companies, servicing 95 per cent of lifts in Singapore, are committed to adopting the model.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) suggested the use of technology to monitor the performances of lifts and escalators. "This could help to reduce the down time and minimise inconvenience. Productivity could also be increased," she said.

To improve accessibility in older buildings, owners must build basic accessibility features when undertaking addition and alteration works that require submitting plans to the BCA.

 
 

Such features include accessible building entrances, toilets and routes within the entrance level.

This new requirement will apply to commercial and institutional buildings with a gross floor area of more than 500 sq m. They include offices, hotels, schools and shopping centres.

Other changes include improving the safety of the mechanised car parking systems, and requiring parties to notify BCA of safety incidents and defects relating to these parking systems, lifts, escalators or facades.

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.