SINGAPORE - Mandatory factory inspections as well as stricter testing requirements are among measures to be rolled out to ensure the safe use of cladding on building facades here.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will also propose legislation by next year to hold errant parties responsible if they cause panels to be used wrongly on building exteriors, it said in a statement on Thursday (Nov 8).
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the authorities will adopt the recommendations and introduce legislative changes by the first half of 2019.
"We have standards, and the panels should all meet our standards. It's about how quickly fire can spread and we have (to use) the right panels that retard the spread of fire," he told reporters in a doorstop interview at the Treasury.
The measures were proposed by a review panel formed in February to look into the safety of aluminium composite panels, which are commonly used to clad a building exterior. It was set up after buildings were found to have used improper materials in SCDF checks following a fatal fire in a Toh Guan Road building in May last year, which had reportedly spread via the building's cladding.
Under the recommendations, it will be mandatory for manufacturers of composite panels to undergo annual factory inspections of their manufacturing processes. Inspectors will travel to the factories, including those overseas, to check on their quality control management.
Manufacturers must also permanently emboss critical fire safety information on the products, including the product brand and model number, to prevent panels of varying performance from being mixed up at project sites and in the factory.
Beyond factory checks, builders must conduct a final test of the cladding panels that end up on the project site. A sample of panels will be taken from the site and tested to see if they meet the certified fire safety performance, before the rest of the panels can be installed.
"Given that project sites are the final points of check before installation, site testing provides a strong deterrence against the use of non-compliant cladding," said the SCDF.
Another proposal aims to ensure that fire safety products permitted for use here come with specific details on the certificate of conformity (COC), which is needed for any regulated fire safety product to be used here.
Currently, certification bodies do not provide standardised information on the product in the certificate. With the change, specific details such as the country of origin and manufacturer are now required for all products that have to be tested for its fire rating, including cladding panels.
In another change, qualified persons, such as building consultants and project engineers, will have to submit COCs of cladding material to the authorities for building approval, and are expected to supervise and verify how these panels are used.
SCDF and the Ministry of Home Affairs also intend to amend the Fire Safety Act by next year to hold errant suppliers of these panels to account.
In order for the authorities to take action against errant suppliers, only locally registered companies can receive these COCs from SCDF, it said. This means overseas manufacturers will not be able to supply their products to builders directly, and have to do so through a local distributor.
Mr Shanmugam said buildings still under construction will also need to comply with the new requirements, and there will be checks to ensure compliance from builders.
The 13-member review panel headed by SCDF commissioner Eric Yap also includes Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo, Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore president Augustine Tan and DP Architects director Mathieu Meur.
"These industry players can reflect (the cost factor of the changes) back to us, so we can make a sensible assessment," said Mr Shanmugam.
"But cost cannot be the primary criteria, because we are talking about safety. Overall, safety does not only depend on the panels, but also on a wide variety of factors. We will need advice from industry not just on cost but also on practices - what may work and what may not work."