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Law passed to boost facade checks on older S’pore buildings after 90 cases of falling debris in 3 years

SINGAPORE — Under legislative amendments passed on Friday (March 6), the facades of older buildings will be inspected more often after about 90 incidents in the past three years when parts of facades fell off. Lifts and escalators will also be subject to stricter safer rules.

Law passed to boost facade checks on older S’pore buildings after 90 cases of falling debris in 3 years

A large piece of decorative facade became dislodged and fell nine storeys at a Pasir Ris Housing and Development Board block in June 2018.

SINGAPORE — Under legislative amendments passed on Friday (March 6), the facades of older buildings will be inspected more often after about 90 incidents in the past three years when parts of facades fell off. Lifts and escalators will also be subject to stricter safer rules.

The changes to the Building Control Act also allow the Government to mandate a progressive wage model (PWM) for Singapore residents in the lift maintenance industry and require the provision of basic accessibility features for older buildings that undergo addition and alteration works.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower said, during the second reading of the Building Control (Amendment) Bill, that Singapore has developed rapidly over the past 55 years.

“We need to ensure that our building infrastructure remains well-maintained and safe. This is particularly important for older buildings,” he said.

Here is a summary of the key changes to the Act:

IMPROVING FACADE SAFETY

In a media statement, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said that under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act (BMSMA), responsible parties have a duty to ensure that building exteriors are properly maintained.

In his speech on Friday, Mr Zaqy said while general maintenance works are already carried out regularly on building facades, there is a need to further improve facade maintenance standards.

“Over the last three years, BCA received reports of almost 30 incidents involving falling facade elements each year. Most of these were related to the wear and tear of the facade materials or connections,” he said.

To that end, a new Periodic Facade Inspection system will be introduced to reduce the likelihood of facade failure as buildings age.

Under this system, 4,000 buildings are expected to be inspected annually. It will require:

  • Facade inspections to be conducted every seven years for buildings that are more than 13m tall, once they are more than 20 years old. Landed houses are exempted.

  • Facade inspections to be carried out by a competent person, such as a professional engineer or registered architect, who can be assisted by a Facade Inspector.

  • The competent person to propose appropriate rectification works, if deterioration is detected. These works must be carried out within a specified period.

Mr Zaqy said BCA will introduce inspection guidelines, and strengthen research and development efforts to look into more effective and productive ways to carry out facade inspections, such as using drones.

SAFER LIFTS AND ESCALATORS

Mr Zaqy said Singapore has about 70,000 lifts and 7,000 escalators. “We need to ensure that they are designed, installed and maintained properly, so that they are safe to use.”

BCA will introduce new requirements for the design and installation of lifts and escalators to reduce the likelihood of deficiencies which may give rise to safety incidents.

Owners of lifts and escalators will also be required to engage the services of specialist professional engineers in lifts and escalators to certify the respective design plans, which are to be submitted to BCA for approval.

As part of this new plan submission process, the BCA said it will require lift and escalator professionals to ensure that lift models and their key safety components are certified by independent certification bodies.

BETTER WAGES FOR LOCAL LIFT TECHNICIANS

In 2017, a Lift and Escalator Sectoral Tripartite Committee was formed to look into the sector’s challenges such as an ageing workforce and dearth in new entrants.

“One of its key recommendations was to introduce a PWM for the lift industry,” said Mr Zaqy, who added that the Government aims to have it in force for the lift industry in 2022.

He said the PWM seeks to:

  • Increase basic wages across the board for local lift technicians, particularly at the lower levels.

  • Peg recommended wages against comparable technician jobs in other sectors.

  • Create clear career progression paths and ensures that wages are commensurate with the job responsibilities and competencies.

IMPROVING ACCESSIBILITY FOR OLDER BUILDINGS

Since 1990, all new buildings and existing buildings that undergo addition and alteration works have been required to meet accessibility requirements, said the BCA.

However, these requirements apply only to specific locations in the building where such works are undertaken.

Mr Zaqy said to accelerate accessibility upgrading in older buildings, those buildings without basic accessibility features will be required to provide these when undertaking addition and alteration works that require plan submissions — regardless of where such works are carried out within the building.

These accessibility features refer to an accessible building entrance, an accessible route within the entrance level and an accessible toilet.

The new requirement will only apply to commercial and institutional buildings with a gross floor area of more than 500 sqm, said Mr Zaqy.

QUESTIONS ON COSTS, OLIGOPOLY AND WORK SAFETY

Several Members of Parliament said they applauded the move, but sought clarification — particularly in areas of cost and improving working conditions for lift technicians.

Mr Zaqy addressed them in turn. The questions and answers have been edited for brevity.

Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim, Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC): Who is responsible for facade maintenance in HDB blocks?

A: The person responsible for such maintenance is defined in the BMSMA as the Town Council, and not the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

Workers’ Party vice-chairman Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC MP): Will there be co-sharing of costs or additional funding provided to Town Councils for the new facade inspections?

A: Maintenance of exterior features and their facades are under the responsibility of the Town Council and its contractors. For facade retrofitting, it will be HDB or the Town Council.

If there are facade repair issues, there is an existing HDB co-payment scheme where HDB funds 50 per cent. If it is a design fault or construction issue, it will be 100 per cent covered by HDB.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC): The lift industry seems to have an oligopoly market structure with a few firms dominating the market. Many lift technicians can only service lifts made by their companies, and lack the knowledge and skills to service different types of lifts.

In the European Union (EU) countries, the lift industry is encouraged to adopt an open and non-proprietary lift system. Will the BCA consider something similar?

A: The EU prohibits companies from restricting the sale of spare parts to other companies and we have similar laws in Singapore that can deal with refusal to supply essential parts.

I think it will not be practical to legislate lift systems that must be open and non-proprietary because doing so would severely limit the selection of lifts available to Singapore, given the designs of many of our international lifts are actually quite proprietary.

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng: Lift maintenance is known as the 3D industry – dark, dirty, and dangerous. I understand that the BCA is studying the feasibility of improving ventilation within the lift shaft and motor room to create a cooler work environment for the maintenance personnel. Could you share the progress?

A: BCA is working with the industry for new lifts to be designed with better working conditions for lift technicians, as part of the work of the Tripartite Cluster for the Lift and Escalator Industry.

I understand the committee is looking at measures relating to improving minimum illumination levels and mechanical ventilation in the lift shaft, so that lift technicians can work in a cooler, brightly lit environment.

For existing lifts, we encourage lift owners to proactively incorporate these improvements as part of their planned upgrading or modernisation works.

 

Related topics

Building Control Act escalator Progressive Wage Model building managers

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