Saturday, 26 August 2017

36 buildings may have combustible cladding that do not meet fire safety rules; police report lodged

But they are safe for occupancy, says SCDF, which is getting owners to replace the panels
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2017

A total of 36 buildings here, including an industrial complex in Toh Guan Road where a lethal fire broke out in May, are using external cladding that may not adhere to safety standards in the Fire Code.

Of these, 15 were confirmed to be using combustible cladding that allows flames to spread quicker than they are supposed to. They include the new Our Tampines Hub, parts of Singapore Polytechnic, and luxury condominiums The Peak @ Cairnhill I and II.

Checks are ongoing for the rest.

It prompted the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to announce yesterday that it will review the fire safety regulations and certification process for the use of composite panels in buildings.

The trigger was the Toh Guan fire, which killed a woman.



Preliminary police investigations found that another 40 buildings were using the same composite panels from American brand Alubond.

It was found that local distributor Chip Soon Aluminium had mixed up panels of differing safety standards at its warehouse. This means that buildings could be using external wall panels with less stringent flame-spread standards.

Of the 40, five have passed SCDF checks carried out over the past two weeks, 14 have failed, while 21 have yet to be tested.

A police report has been lodged by the SCDF, said the Ministry of Home Affairs and SCDF yesterday. "Action will be taken if there is evidence of criminal culpability," said the SCDF.

Despite the cladding concerns, the 40 buildings are safe for occupancy, it added.

It said it conducted fire safety assessments and deemed them safe for occupancy due to provisions such as sprinklers and fire alarms. It also considered factors such as the proximity of the cladding to possible ignition sources and the proportion of external walls with cladding.

The SCDF said it was working closely with the building owners to replace the composite panels on their buildings within two months.

It will be updating the list of affected buildings on its website.

Building owners and developers contacted yesterday said they will remove the panels as soon as possible, with some saying the exercise will be carried out today.

The distributor, Chip Soon Aluminium, said it was "shocked and dismayed" to learn that its panels did not meet the safety standard. It has ceased supplying Alubond here and has demanded a response from the manufacturer, United Arab Emirates-based Eurocon Building Industries FZE, it said.

The Toh Guan fire preceded two major fires in London's Grenfell Tower in June, and Dubai's Torch Tower earlier this month. Reports attributed the spread of the Grenfell and Dubai fires to the use of combustible external cladding.

Only a small number of Housing Board buildings use composite panels - and these are for the cladding of lift shaft exteriors. They have been found to be compliant with the rules, said the SCDF.



On Wednesday, The Straits Times found that the cladding panels at 30 Toh Guan Road had been removed.

Its building owner claimed the cladding panels were installed "in compliance with then existing fire safety guidelines".

ESR Funds Management chief executive Adrian Chui said: "As a precautionary measure, we have decided to remove the cladding from 30 Toh Guan in consultation with SCDF to ensure business operations can resume as soon as possible."

A coroner's inquiry later this year will look into the death of Madam Neo Siew Eng, 54, who worked on the fifth floor of 30 Toh Guan.

The case is the only one, out of 19,013 fires from January 2012 to June this year, to involve external walls.

Action will be taken if there is evidence of a crime, said the SCDF. Police investigations are ongoing.









Cladding woes: Affected buildings to be rectified as soon as possible
Owners will remove non-compliant cladding; some say only small part of facade involved
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2017

Owners and developers of affected buildings said they will rectify the situation as soon as possible, with some adding that the non-compliant cladding constitutes only a small part of the facade.

Yesterday, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said all 14 projects found with such cladding remain safe for occupancy.

It added that building owners must work with their qualified persons to remove the affected cladding within two months.

Several of the affected buildings are new developments or have undergone renovation works in recent years.

One of these is the newly opened Our Tampines Hub, which was launched with much fanfare on Aug 6.

The People's Association (PA), which led the project, said the affected cladding panels comprise less than 5 per cent of the building's external facade and will be removed.

It added that SCDF has said evacuation would not be compromised in the event of a fire, as the cladding is not extensive nor located along escape routes.

"Nevertheless, we will continue to take fire safety precautions, such as conducting regular checks to ensure that all exit passageways are free from obstruction," said a PA spokesman.

"(We will also) ensure that the fire safety system and processes are in place."

Another affected building is 3, Pioneer Sector 3, an industrial building located within the Jurong Industrial Estate that is managed by ESR-Reit.

A spokesman said the aluminium composite panels had been installed in 2015 as part of an upgrading exercise. "The panels supplied were compliant with the fire safety guidelines at the point of installation, and a certificate of conformity was received," she said.

The panels, which do not comprise more than 3 per cent of the building's total external surface area, will be removed today.

JTC, which is in charge of CleanTech Two - part of the CleanTech Park that focuses on eco-business - said all the building's tenants have been informed.

Five other JTC buildings, all located at LaunchPad @ one-north, have been flagged by the SCDF as also possibly using non-compliant cladding. The building has not been tested by the SCDF.

Both JTC and Singapore Polytechnic - where some teaching blocks also have non-compliant cladding - said they would rectify the issue as soon as possible.

"The contractor who supplied and installed the cladding panels - which were supposed to be in compliance with the Fire Code - will be responsible for the rectification," said a spokesman for the polytechnic.

Residents and tenants of the affected buildings did not seem alarmed by the news.

Ms Flora He, who moved into The Peak @ Cairnhill I two years ago, did not seem worried, although she felt that the condominium's management should take action.

"I have not heard about this issue, but I hope the management will replace it (the cladding)," said the 28-year-old, who works in the travel industry.

Ms Lucy Comway, who lives in luxury condominium The Boutiq in Killiney Road, said she received a letter from the management informing residents of the situation on Wednesday night. "They said there were problems with the cladding and they would be replacing it, but that it was safe, so I'm not very worried," said the 26-year-old.

The managements of both condominiums were not available for comment.

At 30 Toh Guan Road, where a 54-year-old woman was killed in a fire in May, the non-compliant cladding had already been removed.

Said an office worker at the building, who wanted to be known only as Madam Fauziah: "The building management told us that the building is safe to use. Since all the panels are gone, I don't have an issue."

Additional reporting by Ng Jun Sen










How did cladding woes happen despite layers of checks?
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2017

The sole Singapore distributor of the cladding material found in 41 affected buildings here had mixed together two different models at its warehouse, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said.

The two Alubond models sold by Chip Soon Aluminium, FRB1 and FRB2, carry different fire ratings.

FRB1 is given a Class 0 rating, which means fire will not spread along its surface when ignited. Under the Fire Code, only Class 0 panels can be used as external cladding. Meanwhile, FRB2 carries the Class 1 rating, which is less flame-retardant and is approved for use on roofs and interiors.

But the firm placed both models together in one stock in its Bendemeer Road warehouse.

These panels were later supplied to 41 buildings to be used as cladding. In May, one of them, 30, Toh Guan Road, an industrial building, caught fire. One woman died.

Tests showed that the external walls in these buildings contain a mixture of Alubond models FRB1 and FRB2, said SCDF.

Even stocks of the Class 0 model FRB1 were also not uniformly of the required standard. Some panels did not comply with the requirement to prevent surface spread of fire.

"Investigations are continuing as to how this came about," said SCDF in its statement.

Safety and building experts told The Straits Times they were shocked at the degree of non-compliance, especially since Singapore has a system of checks involving multiple stakeholders in the construction process.

For these materials to be used here, they must first be given the green light by an accredited certification laboratory, which will test batch samples of the product, said principal architect of TBL Architects, Mr Tan Beng Leong.

The supplier or distributor has to obtain a certificate of conformity (COC) stating if it is Class 0 or otherwise. The COC will be submitted to the architect of the project.

Once the architect approves the building plans and the cladding arrives at the site, the clerks of work, namely the resident engineers and technical officers, will check that the materials are correct.

Said Mr Tan: "These fire-rated materials will typically be stamped with serial numbers which would indicate which COC it holds. After installation, those who installed the panels - typically a contractor - will have to issue another declaration of compliance, ensuring that the COC documents match the panel numbers."

It is not over yet, as the architect or developer has to hire a third-party registered inspector to check the numbers once more.

SCDF will also send its own inspectors to the work site to do their own checks, before granting first a temporary fire permit, and later on, a fire safety certificate.

With such layers of checks in place, there are puzzling questions about what exactly happened, said Mr Tan.

The SCDF has said that in the light of what has happened, it will review the fire safety regulations and processes for certification relating to the use of composite panels on buildings.

One possibility is to make on-site testing mandatory as in the United States.

Also known as bench testing, it involves building a small model using the materials and setting it on fire to see how fast the flames spread.

It is not mandatory here for cladding as it is assumed the product, made off-site in a factory, meets the requirements.

But while it is possible that bench testing could have prevented a mix-up, it is neither feasible nor foolproof, said Mr Seet Choh San, chairman of the Singapore Standards Technical Committee for Workplace Safety and Health.

"It is not possible to test every single panel as they will be destroyed in the process of testing, so a sample has to be taken, which might not be accurate too," said Mr Seet.

He cautioned against blaming the existing system of checks as this incident concerns one distributor only, even though there are a large number of buildings affected.

Said Mr Seet: "What is more important right now is to solve the problem at the source. If the source is bad, of course wherever their supply ends up will turn up bad. From what I see right now, it is not systemic."

However, consultant engineer Lee Seong Wee said it remains to be seen if there are other brands of aluminium composite cladding which may turn up problems when scrutinised.

He said: "If one supplier decides not to play ball and something goes wrong, what is stopping others from doing the same? There must be something that shifts some responsibility of ensuring compliance back to the authorities."










About cladding and checks
The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2017

Q WHAT IS CLADDING?

A It is a type of "skin" or extra layer on the outside of a building. It can be attached to a building's framework or an intermediate layer of shafts or spacers. Typically used to stop wind and rain from entering the building or for sound insulation. It is also used to make a building's exterior look more attractive.


Q WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT CLASSES OF CLADDING?

A There are five classes of composite panels, from the most stringent Class 0 rating to the least stringent Class 4. While still combustible, Class 0 rated panels are certified to not allow the spread of fire on the surface and will burn only at a localised area.


Q HOW COMMON IS COMPOSITE PANEL CLADDING FOUND IN SINGAPORE AND WHAT DOES THE FIRE CODE SAY REGARDING ITS USE?

A Since the Fire Code was introduced in 1974, all building materials used in Singapore had to comply with it.

Cladding, however, was not commonly used till the 1980s, and the code had been updated several times since. Old buildings need only follow the prevailing code when it was built.


Q DO HOUSING BOARD FLATS HAVE CLADDING?

A A vast majority of HDB blocks do not use cladding or use only non-combustible cladding, such as fully aluminium panels.

Only a small number of HDB blocks use composite panels as cladding on lift shaft exteriors. These panels meet fire safety requirements, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force after conducting checks.


Q WILL THERE BE CHECKS ON THE REST OF BUILDINGS IN SINGAPORE?

A The 41 buildings were checked because they used the same Alubond-branded composite cladding as the ones used in the industrial building at 30, Toh Guan Road, where a fire killed one person in May.

Alubond is solely distributed by Chip Soon Aluminium here.


Q WHO PAYS FOR THE REMOVAL AND REPLACEMENT OF THE PANELS?

A In most cases, the building owners will have to soak up the costs for now. A spokesman for ESR Funds Management, which manages 30, Toh Guan Road, said they paid for the removal of the panels and will eventually find replacement panels. They declined to reveal how much they spent.










Singapore distributor conducting its own probe
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2017

The Singapore distributor behind the problematic cladding material, Alubond, said that it is conducting its own investigations even as it cooperates with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

In a statement last night, Chip Soon Aluminium appears to insist that the safety classifications of two models of composite panels, FRB1 and FRB2, were of the most stringent standard.

It wrote: "We have been shocked and dismayed to learn from the SCDF that they believe that FRB1 and FRB2 may not be of the requisite Class 0 standard as required under the Singapore Fire Code, as we have always believed these products to be fully compliant and properly certified.

"We understand from the manufacturer that these products have been used for building cladding in other countries."

SCDF, however, has said that model FRB1 is classified as the Class 0 for use as cladding on external walls, while FRB2 is classified as the less flame-retardant Class 1 for roofs and internal walls.

Stocks of both models were mixed together at Chip Soon's warehouse, added SCDF, and the panels from that pool were then supplied to 41 buildings for use as cladding on external walls.

Tests showed that the external walls of some of these buildings contain a mixture of both models, meaning that the cladding was not of the required Class 0 standard.

SCDF has lodged a police report and investigations are ongoing.

Chip Soon did not respond to Straits Times' queries for further elaboration.

In its statement, the homegrown firm said it is "demanding a response from the manufactuer of the products on the products' compliance with the appropriate standards".

The manufacturer is United Arab Emirates-based Eurocon Building Industries FZE.

Chip Soon, which deals in building materials here and abroad, was registered in 1982 with a paid-up capital of $4.3 million. Company records show that the firm is run by two directors - Mr Moh Chiew Cheng and Mr Phua Kay Lock.





No reason to think improper cladding used elsewhere: SCDF
Some experts urge more checks, but cost would be an issue
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2017

Beyond the 36 buildings that had installed potentially problematic cladding panels, there is no reason to believe that other buildings in Singapore contravene fire safety regulations, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

In a reply to The Straits Times last night, it said: "At this juncture, there is no reason to suspect that there has been improper usage or inconsistent quality of other cladding brands or models."

This was in response to a question on whether there is a need to check all buildings that use aluminium composite panel (ACP) cladding, to reassure building owners and occupants the materials are safe, in the wake of Thursday's announcements that some buildings' facades do not meet the Fire Code. These buildings had all used Alubon panels, supplied by Chip Soon Aluminium.

Industry players said there are potentially hundreds of buildings that currently use other brands of aluminium composite panels as external cladding beyond Alubon, which had supplied to 41 companies here.

Mr Chong Kee Sen, former president of the Institute of Engineers, Singapore, said the rise in popularity of cladding is a global trend, as cladding helps to enhance insulation of a building, making it more energy-efficient as it is protected from external heat, or cold in the case of temperate countries.

Said Mr Chong: "It is probably a good (time) to carry out a closer review of the requirements for the different types of cladding used."

But cost would be an issue, said others. Principal architect of TBL Architects Tan Beng Leong warned that checking every single building with ACP cladding may be a resource drain on both SCDF and building owners, who will have to replace the samples that are destroyed during fire testing.

He suggested incorporating on-site testing of ACP cladding during SCDF's regular audits of buildings, which is currently not included.

Said Mr Tan: "Since SCDF already conducts thousands of these audits yearly, I believe it has the ability to do it."

Sales executive Amanda Jiang, whose firm SinMetal International is the sole distributor of Darren ACP, a Chinese brand, said it competes with around 10 other brands that are sold here. Her firm has supplied panels to three projects here.

She said: "There are two models of ACP, a fireproof and a non-fireproof one. In Singapore, only the fireproof versions are sold so there is little chance of a mix-up."

The checks by the SCDF were triggered by a fire in May at an industrial building in Toh Guan Road, in which a woman was killed.

The authorities launched "comprehensive on-site fire safety assessments" on 40 other buildings that use the same brand of cladding material, Alubond, SCDF said on Thursday.

Of these, 15 failed tests for the required Class 0 standard, which does not allow flames to spread on the surface.

Alubond is a US brand distributed solely by Chip Soon Aluminium, a home-grown firm.

Construction expert Lee Seong Wee, a consulting engineer, said the case of Chip Soon Aluminium shows how a single supplier can undermine the current system of building checks.

Preliminary investigation findings by the SCDF showed the company could have mixed up two Alubond products of different fire standards at its warehouse.

Mr Lee said: "Definitely, more checks should be done. Without a full-scale exercise for all other buildings with cladding, how would the authorities know if other suppliers do not have similar mix-ups?"

He suggested having architects declare the projects that use such aluminium composite cladding, and allow the authorities to perform these checks.

Said Mr Lee: "If building developers and architects say they comply with the code, they should come forward and stand by its quality. This shifts the onus back to the people who specified the building material used."





Workers start removing problematic cladding
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2017

The process of removing problematic metal cladding is already under way at some buildings, following Thursday's announcement that 36 may have contravened the Fire Code.

At 3, Pioneer Sector 3, workers were seen stripping panels off the industrial building yesterday afternoon.

When The Straits Times arrived at 2.30pm, they had already removed around 10 of about 80 panels, which were installed during an upgrading exercise in 2015.

On Thursday, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said its investigations revealed that 36 buildings may be using external cladding that does not adhere to safety standards.

Only Class 0 or non-combustible panels can be used as external cladding. However, the SCDF said that Chip Soon Aluminium, which supplied the cladding material found on all affected buildings, had mixed two different models - one of which had a Class 1 rating. Flames spread quicker with Class 1 panels than with those rated Class 0. Some of the panels rated as Class 0 also did not meet the requirement to prevent surface spread of fire.

While checks are ongoing, 15 of the buildings have been confirmed to have installed some non-compliant panels.

The affected buildings include 3, Pioneer Sector 3, as well as 30, Toh Guan Road, where a fire broke out in May and killed a 54-year-old woman.

Both buildings are managed by ESR-Reit, which said that the aluminium composite panels were compliant with fire safety guidelines at the point of installation.

This was echoed by Eng Wah Global, which owns affected shopping mall 321 Clementi.

In a statement, Eng Wah said that during the early stages of the project, Chip Soon Aluminium had provided a cladding sample that was approved based on its Class 0 rating. "We were not aware that the cladding presently on the building does not align with what was selected and approved," an Eng Wah spokesman said.

It added that architecture firm Aedas and Chong Tong Construction, which were engaged for the mall's construction, are working "round the clock" to work out a plan to remove and replace the affected portions.

JTC, which manages CleanTech Two at eco-business park CleanTech Park, said that it would be removing the non-compliant panels there today.

Five blocks at its LaunchPad @ one-north are also affected, but have not been tested. A JTC spokesman said that it has arranged with the SCDF to send samples for testing on Monday and Tuesday.





Affected buildings may not be unsafe, say experts
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2017

Building experts have cautioned against prematurely linking the Grenfell Tower in London and Torch Tower in Dubai with the 36 buildings in Singapore with potentially problematic cladding material.

All the buildings do share similar material - that is, aluminium composite panels - albeit from different brands.

But this does not mean that the buildings in Singapore are unsafe, they said.

In its checks, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) had determined that they are "fit and safe for occupancy due to their existing fire provisions", it said on Thursday.

These include well-ventilated escape routes, fire hose reels, sprinklers and fire alarms. Buildings here are also made to compartmentalise fires within individual floors or rooms through fire-rated doors, walls and ceilings.

Police in Britain have said they believe the cladding panels added during a refurbishment of Grenfell Tower may have contributed to the rapid spread of a fire there in June in which 80 people died.



But not all of the affected buildings here featured prominent cladding on the external walls, noted the experts.

At Our Tampines Hub, for example, the affected cladding panels comprise less than 5 per cent of the building's external facade, said the People's Association.

Mr Seet Choh San, chairman of the Singapore Standards Technical Committee for Workplace Safety and Health, said: "From a safety point of view, you have to look at the system as a whole, in totality, because cladding is only one part of a building's (defence against) fire."

The British media reported that the cladding material used in Grenfell was sold under the brand Reynobond.

Made by American firm Arconic, distributors had sold three models of the panels within Britain, each with different fire ratings.

Reports said the one used at Grenfell Tower had a polyethylene (PE) - a type of plastic - core, which had the least stringent fire rating and was suitable for use in buildings up to 10m in height. Grenfell Tower was 60m tall.

SCDF has said it will review the fire safety regulations and processes for certification relating to the use of composite panels on buildings to ensure that they remain robust.






* Cladding of Singapore Pools building fails fire-safety tests
It joins 15 other buildings found by SCDF to have non-compliant material
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 5 Sep 2017

The Singapore Pools building in Middle Road has been found to have cladding that does not adhere to fire safety standards, joining a list of 15 other buildings that have non-compliant material on their facades.

Meanwhile, checks are ongoing for another 20 buildings. They include Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church, JTC LaunchPad @ one-north and Guoco Tower.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) posted the latest development on its website last night. This is its first update since it made public the news nearly two weeks ago that 36 buildings here may be using combustible cladding from American brand Alubond, which allow flames to spread quicker than they are supposed to.

Of these, 16 have now been found to fail fire-safety tests.

Separately, Changi Airport Group told The Straits Times that the new Terminal 4 uses cladding material from Alubond, but that it has been tested and found to be compliant with fire-safety rules. It is among five buildings with Alubond cladding that have passed SCDF checks.

The panels in the 16 affected buildings, made of an aluminium composite material by Alubond, were found to be non-Class 0 rated.

Cladding is typically used to beautify building exteriors and to insulate the building from heat. Class 0 cladding, the most stringent fire rating, is the only type of combustible panel material allowed for external facades.

The owners of buildings whose cladding were found to be non-Class 0 have two months to remove the cladding, SCDF said on Aug 24. Meanwhile, it added, the buildings are safe for occupancy as they have been found to have adequate fire-safety provisions, such as escape routes and sprinklers. The proportion of cladding as facade material was also found to be low.

Non-compliant cladding came into the spotlight after the facade of an office building at 30, Toh Guan Road, caught fire, killing a 54-year-old woman. According to preliminary findings, the building had used a mix of Class 0 and non-Class 0 cladding material.

The investigations also revealed that the panel's sole distributor, Chip Soon Aluminium, had mixed together the stocks of the two materials in its warehouse. Chip Soon has since denied in an interview with broadcaster Channel NewsAsia that there was a mix-up.

The Singapore Pools building is the gaming company's headquarters, housing its corporate offices, main branch, a draw hall and other office tenants. It features extensive metallic cladding and glass windows on its outer facade. A fire had broken out within the building on June 16, but the cladding was not affected. No one was injured.

Singapore Pools moved its operations from PoMo in Selegie Road to the current building at the junction of Middle Road and Prinsep Street in February 2013.

A police report has been filed by SCDF and an investigation into how non-Class 0 composite panels ended up on external walls is still ongoing.




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