SINGAPORE: Compulsory factory inspections and tests of cladding samples from every new building project site are among the recommendations made by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to enhance fire safety.
In a news release on Thursday (Nov 8), SCDF said it had identified key areas of improvement after reviewing the regulatory regime for cladding.
The review followed the discovery of non-compliant composite panels used as cladding on the external walls of buildings last year, after a fire broke out at an industrial building at 30 Toh Guan Road.
SCDF then convened an advisory panel in February this year to advise on its recommendations for cladding fire safety regulations.
"The panel, which concluded its work on Sep 13, had suggested several changes to SCDF’s original recommendations," said SCDF. "It also assesses that the associated costs to the industry are manageable."
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Thursday that the recommendations will be adopted by authorities.
"The panel has made a number of recommendations. We will adopt them and will put them through legislation by the first half of next year," he said.
For buildings that are currently being built, SCDF will also make sure they comply, he added.
"The buildings that are being built, we will make sure by actual groundwork that they comply. They have to comply - that's the current requirement. But in addition, we felt that the process can be tightened up."
FACTORY INSPECTIONS, SITE TESTING OF CLADDING
In its release on Thursday, SCDF called for certification requirements for such panels to be tightened.
Regulated fire safety products are issued with Certificates of Conformity after being assessed by local certification bodies, with each certificate valid for five years.
Currently, composite panels used as cladding come under a certification scheme based on test reports of fire safety performance, as well as an annual visual inspection and burn test of sample panels.
"However, the scheme does not fully address other factors that could result in non-compliant composite panels being supplied to project sites," said SCDF.
These factors include manufacturing inconsistencies or undeclared modification of the panels which can degrade their fire performance.
As such, SCDF said it would enhance the certification requirements for composite panels to ensure "greater quality assurance throughout the supply chain".
These additional requirements include mandatory annual factory inspections of manufacturing processes, annual audits of the quality management systems of the factory and Certificate of Conformity holders as well as testing of samples from every new project site.
"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 SCDF.
In addition, SCDF will also require certification bodies to include specific information on the Certificates of Conformity, as such information is not standardised at the moment.
This will apply to Certificates of Conformity for all fire safety products and not just composite panels.
In order to mitigate the risk of mixing up composite panels that are meant to be used for different things (for example as roof covering versus cladding), SCDF also said it would require critical information to be embossed on every composite panel.
This includes the product brand and model number, fire performance, name of the manufacturer, manufacture date and country of origin.
Certificates for such products will also only be issued to locally registered companies, said SCDF.
This is to make sure it can take action against certificate holders who supply non-compliant fire safety products for use in Singapore - something that SCDF said was not possible if the suppliers are based overseas and beyond its jurisdiction.
SCDF also proposed that all certification bodies should be required to publish certification procedures on their website to ensure clarity and transparency.
PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO FIRE SAFETY ACT
SCDF also proposed amendments to the Fire Safety Act that will make it an offence to supply non-compliant products.
Currently, it is only an offence under the Act to install non-compliant fire safety-related products.
If passed, this would allow SCDF to order errant parties to take remedial actions, including recalling the sale of such products and removing them from buildings.
In addition, SCDF said it intends to make it mandatory to submit the Certificates of Conformity of composite panels used as cladding, as part of building plan submissions.
A Qualified Person - usually an architect or professional engineer - is expected to supervise the testing of panels taken from project sites, confirm the scale of how they are used and where the panels are to be installed on site.
Registered inspectors will be responsible for verifying the requirements have been fulfilled.
The recommendations to strengthen the cladding regulatory regime are slated to be implemented about six months after the amended FSA comes into force, said SCDF.
In the meantime, it said it would implement recommendations that can be effected without legislative changes.
These include organising dialogues and seminars to enhance the industry’s understanding of regulatory requirements, standardising the information fields in Certificates of Conformity and introducing the requirement for Qualified Persons to submit Certificates of Conformity as part of the building plan submission.
IMPROPER CLADDING MATERIALS
The fire that sparked the cladding review took place in an industrial building at 30 Toh Guan Road on May 4, 2017 and claimed the life of a 54-year-old woman.
The construction firm that supplied the cladding materials for the building - Chip Soon Aluminium - had its Certificate of Conformity for at least three of its cladding products suspended for failing to meet fire-safety regulations.
The SCDF found that the composite panels used as cladding on the building’s external walls were not of Class 0 standard on core materials as required under the Fire Code. It is mandatory for cladding materials to be fire-tested and they are rated Class 0 to 4 to indicate the rate of flame spread.
The SCDF later announced that 37 buildings had used improper materials - Alubond composite panels - as cladding on their external walls. They were given until the end of October 2017 to remove the non-compliant materials.