Toh Guan fire probe: Firm told to suspend sale of cladding products

Toh Guan fire probe: Firm told to suspend sale of cladding products

SINGAPORE: A construction firm under investigation for supplying materials that apparently failed to meet fire-safety regulations, has had to stop selling some of its cladding products after the certifications for those products were suspended.

On Tuesday, Chip Soon Aluminium was informed by Tuv Sud PSB that the Certificate of Conformity (COC) for at least three of its cladding products have been suspended.

The suspension came five days after Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) announced that 41 buildings had apparently used improper materials supplied by Chip Soon Aluminium.

Tuv Sud PSB, one of four accredited certification bodies in Singapore, cited SCDF’s findings which showed Alubond composite panels distributed by the firm, were not of Class 0 standard in order for them to be used as cladding for external walls.

The investigations were triggered by a fire which broke out in an industrial building at 30 Toh Guan Road on May 4 this year. A 54-year-old woman died in the fire.

SCDF found that the composite panels used as cladding on the building’s external walls were not of Class 0 standard 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.

About a week later, Chip Soon Aluminium was called up to assist in police investigations.

In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia earlier this week, the owners of Chip Soon Aluminium said the two composite panels - FRB1 and FRB2 - used for Toh Guan industrial building were tested by Exova in the UK in 2011. The test result was recognised by Tuv Sud PSB which then issued the certifications for the two product models.

When contacted, Exova told Channel NewsAsia that it was involved only in the testing process and that it was "inappropriate to comment further". 

But investigations by SCDF showed that FRB2 was certified as Class 1 and can only be used for roofs and internal walls. Both FRB1 and FRB2 and a third model of composite panel have been suspended by Tuv Sud PSB pending further notice.

At least 41 buildings including CT Hub, Tampines Hub, luxury condominiums The Peak@Cairnhill I and II, Singapore Polytechnic, Clementi Fire Station, and two McDonald’s restaurants, had their composite panels supplied by Chip Soon Aluminium.

Five have been tested to have used the Class 0 composite panels as required, while 14 were found to have used panels that were not certified as Class 0. Another 21 buildings have yet to have theirs tested. At least four buildings including 3 Pioneer Sector 3 and Clementi Fire Station have removed the affected cladding.

Investigations by police found that stocks of FRB1 and FRB2 were mixed together at Chip Soon Aluminium’s warehouse.

But a spokesman for the family-run business told Channel NewsAsia that “there was no mix-up” as both models were certified Class 0 by Exova.  

According to Chip Soon Aluminium, the contractor for 30 Toh Guan building had ordered about 860 panels of FRB1 and 30 panels of FRB2. The price difference for the two models is between S$2.50 and S$3.50, depending on the colour and quantity purchased.

Channel NewsAsia understands that Chip Soon Aluminium has received a lawyer’s letter from the contractor and could face a possible lawsuit.

When contacted, the contractor declined to comment citing ongoing investigations as its reason.

Lawyer Tan Joo Seng of Chong Chia & Lim LLC who has handled construction lawsuits for the past 20 years, said a chain of lawsuits could follow, which could see the main contractor suing the subcontractor who did the installation. The subcontractor could then try to claim from the materials supplier who might want to pursue its losses from the overseas manufacturer.

It could take “two to three years for the case to come to a conclusion - assuming that claims are disputed all the way”, said Mr Tan.

Chip Soon Aluminium would have to provide Tuv Sud PSB with a list of locations where the alleged improper materials have been used. By failing to do so, the COCs for all three affected products would be terminated.

Tuv Sud PSB said in a letter dated Aug 29 that it is looking into the certifications of two other products distributed by the firm.

“I have not come across any case where the Certificate of Conformity have been withdrawn on such a big scale,” said Mr Tan. “The construction industry may have to look inward to find out what went wrong, and try to improve the processes.” 

Source: CNA/de