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500 old buildings required to have critical fire safety features; new penalties for suppliers of non-compliant products

SINGAPORE — Owners of some 500 old buildings, mostly commercial and industrial, will be required to install critical fire safety devices such as fire alarms, under proposed changes to Singapore’s fire safety laws.

Factors such as Singapore’s increasingly dense environment is one reason existing laws have to be reviewed.

Factors such as Singapore’s increasingly dense environment is one reason existing laws have to be reviewed.

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SINGAPORE — Owners of some 500 old buildings, mostly commercial and industrial, will be required to install critical fire safety features and devices such as fire alarms, under proposed changes to Singapore’s fire safety laws.

Ms Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs, said that their building plans were approved before the 2002 Fire Code came into effect, and they are now not subject to recent changes in fire safety standards.

The proposed changes to the Fire Safety Act, tabled in Parliament on Monday (July 8), seeks to bring these buildings up to standards. 

Separately, a new offence will be created under the Act, to directly deal with parties who install non-compliant fire safety products and suppliers who use such products. The move comes after several buildings here were, in 2017, found to have external cladding which does not meet fire safety requirements.

The last comprehensive review of the Fire Safety Act was done in 2013, and this latest one comes on the back of rising injuries and deaths from fire incidents.

Though the number of fatalities has remained small, it has inched up from two in 2016 to four last year. 

As for fire injuries, the figure dipped from 62 in 2016 to 60 in 2017, but rose significantly to 90 last year.

The key changes to the Fire Safety Act are detailed below.

ENHANCING SAFETY FEATURES  

The Fire Code was revised last year to include new smoke-detector regulations. When changes are made to the Fire Code, they apply only to new buildings built or modified after that year.

It means older buildings are not subject to the new changes, but are complying with Fire Codes of the past.

For instance, in the Central Business District, International Plaza — which was built in 1976 — is compliant with the 1974 Fire Code and does not have exit staircases that lead to external areas that are safer for evacuees. So, it is among the 500 buildings that have to put in place critical fire safety measures.

DETERRING THE USE OF NON-COMPLIANT FIRE SAFETY PRODUCTS

Under the existing Fire Safety Act, there is no provision that enables direct prosecution of parties such as suppliers who are found to have used non-compliant fire safety products.

So, a new offence will be created to do just that. If found guilty of knowingly using non-compliant fire safety products, the punishment is a maximum fine of S$100,000 and a jail term of up to two years. Those found guilty of committing negligence face a maximum fine of S$50,000.

And to take culpable parties to task, officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will be given expanded powers to investigate any individuals or enter premises linked to offences under the Act. It is also mandatory for individuals under investigation to appear before SCDF officers when they are called up.

OUTSOURCE ROUTINE INSPECTIONS

Changes to the Fire Safety Act will also see routine inspections and enforcement being outsourced to “authorised third parties” such as auxilliary police officers, retired SCDF and police officers as well as other public servants.

Though such inspections will be outsourced, there will be safeguards in place. Among them, officers conducting the checks will be trained and evaluated and they will be required to wear body-worn cameras. The SCDF will also conduct random audits on their operations.

This move will free up SCDF’s resources to focus on inspections of higher-risk installations such as those that use petroleum and flammable materials.

WHY THE NEED FOR CHANGES?

Factors such as Singapore’s increasingly dense environment is one reason existing laws have to be reviewed. 

Since the Fire Safety Act was last revised in 2013, the population density has grown from 7,540 that year to 7,796 as of 2017.

Over the years, developers also began using new building materials and products. For instance, the Nanyang Technological University announced last year its plans to build the largest wooden academic building in Asia, to be completed in 2021.

Then, there are concerns over non-compliant fire safety products used by suppliers. 

Tighter regulations under the proposed changes to the Fire Safety Act also come amid greater scrutiny over cladding, an extra layer made of either plastic or aluminium panels to cover the exterior facade of buildings.

With the increasing use of cladding in Singapore over the last few years, there have been concerns over this, especially after it played a part in spreading a deadly fire that eventually engulfed the residential building Grenfell Tower in Kensington in the United Kingdom in June 2017, killing 72 people.

In December 2017, SCDF found that more than 40 buildings here had external cladding that did not meet fire safety requirements and ordered them to be removed.

Thorough checks were conducted after an industrial building at 30 Toh Guan Road in Jurong caught fire, claiming the life of a 54-year-old woman. It was later found that the building’s external composite panels did not meet the Fire Code.

Following investigations into the incident, Chip Soon Aluminium — which supplied composite panels to the building — as well as its sales and marketing manager Benny Phua Chia Ping were charged with cheating in September last year. The case is still before the courts.

Related topics

Parliament fire buildings fire safety

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