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Ceiling concrete slab falls in toilet of old Toa Payoh flat, narrowly misses domestic worker

SINGAPORE — A foreign domestic worker in her 20s was just about to clean the toilet of a Toa Payoh flat when a huge chunk of the ceiling broke off and smashed into the toilet bowl.

Mr Alan Fu estimated that the fallen piece of concrete in his father’s flat must have weighed around 10kg and measured about half a metre in length.

Mr Alan Fu estimated that the fallen piece of concrete in his father’s flat must have weighed around 10kg and measured about half a metre in length.

SINGAPORE — A foreign domestic worker in her 20s was just about to clean the toilet of a Toa Payoh flat when a huge chunk of the ceiling broke off and smashed into the toilet bowl.

“It was a close call for her… We really have to count our blessings,” Mr Alan Fu told TODAY on Thursday (Feb 27).

On Wednesday, the 55-year-old IT manager received a phone text message from the domestic helper when he was at the foot of the public housing block and went into a bit of a panic.

His 90-year-old father lives in the three-room Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat, which is about five decades old and located in the east of Toa Payoh town. Mr Fu did not want to reveal the exact address.

“She sent me the photos… I came up and I took a look at it. It was terrible,” Mr Fu said of the incident that happened around 5pm.

He estimated that the fallen slab of concrete must have weighed around 10kg and measured about half a metre in length. 

The ceiling of the toilet in the three-room HDB flat that belongs to Mr Alan Fu's father. HDB and the flat owner will co-pay the cost of repairs. Photo: Alan Fu

While the family is now receiving help from HDB in fixing the ceiling, Mr Fu questioned how many flat owners are aware that it is their responsibility to check on spalling concrete until it happens to them.

HDB’s website states that spalling concrete is a common issue for older buildings and it is largely caused by carbonation, a natural deterioration process.

This causes the steel bars embedded in the ceiling slab to corrode, which in turn causes the concrete cover to crack and bulge.

HDB added on its website that it is the flat owner’s responsibility to repair any spalling concrete in their flat.

Mr Fu agreed that owners do need to do their checks, but if the owner is old like his father, they may not be so aware and vigilant.

Mr Fu said that he does not live with his father. The other resident of the household, Mr Fu’s 30-year-old nephew, was out at work at the time of the ceiling collapse. 

CONTACTED TOWN COUNCIL, HDB

Photos of the incident, which have since gone viral online, showed a substantial portion of the concrete lodged into the toilet bowl. The floor around it was littered with debris of varying sizes.

Mr Fu said that he has heard of spalling happening for other people, but they tend be minor cases.

After he saw the damage, he called the Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council for help but was referred to HDB instead.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong, a Member of Parliament for the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency (GRC), told TODAY he is aware that Mr Fu was referred to HDB.

He explained that because it happened within a resident’s home, it was under HDB’s charge. Anything else that happens outside of the flat, such as the common areas, will be the town council’s responsibility.

“Even though (such cases) are not under the town council's purview, what we usually do is activate and liaise with HDB for the resident to make sure HDB follows up,” he said.

Mr Fu said that HDB was unable to inspect the damage on Wednesday evening, but a team from the town council’s Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU) arrived around 8pm to do a survey. Staff members from HDB came by on Thursday at around 10am.

In response to queries from TODAY, HDB said on Friday that it found spalling concrete in the toilet ceiling and also in the kitchen ceiling of the flat after investigations were done.

The spalling was a “natural wear-and-tear process” that occurs in older buildings such as this Toa Payoh flat, which is 53 years old. 

“It is non-structural in nature and will not affect the building’s structural integrity,” its spokesperson said.

Arrangements for repairs were made, Mr Fu said, and he was offered to take up HDB’s Goodwill Repair Assistance scheme.

Under this scheme, HDB will facilitate the flat owner to carry out the repairs and co-pay half the repair cost. The flat owner will co-pay the other half.

The spokesperson added that it has arranged for a contractor to remove the loose spalling concrete before repair works begin on Friday.

Mr Fu said he is not sure what the final cost would be, but estimated that it might be “a few hundred” dollars.

HAVE TO USE PUBLIC TOILET

There are no plans at the moment for anyone to move out when repair works get underway, Mr Fu said, reckoning that it may take up to three days for repair works to be completed.

The flat’s bathroom is in a separate cubicle so taking a shower will not be an issue, he added, but they will have to use a public toilet nearby instead while repairs are being done.   

The debris from the fallen concrete slab that damaged the toilet bowl. Photo: Alan Fu

Describing the entire situation as “worrying and scary”, Mr Fu admitted that he did not know at first whose responsibility it was to have the ceiling fixed.

“I wasn’t aware of it... How many other households may face this problem?”

HOW TO PREVENT SPALLING CONCRETE

Spalling concrete, as stated on HDB’s website, is a surface maintenance problem that occurs in reinforced concrete structures. 

“If attended to immediately, the building’s structural integrity will not be affected,” the housing authority said.

It recommends that homeowners take the following steps:

  • Paint ceilings regularly to protect them against carbonation

  • Seal cracks and holes properly to prevent moisture and carbon dioxide from entering concrete

  • Ensure there is enough ventilation to slow down carbonation

Related topics

HDB Toa Payoh ceiling spalling concrete toilet

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