Saturday, 26 August 2017

36 buildings may have combustible cladding that do not meet fire safety rules; Stricter rules and factory checks for cladding on buildings by the first half of 2019

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

** Outer cladding of 24 buildings fails checks
Inspections to assess safety of buildings reveal cladding does not meet fire safety code
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2017

A total of 24 buildings have failed checks of their external cladding so far, more than a month after the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) announced that at least 41 buildings here were clad in material that may not meet the fire safety code.

The checks were to assess whether the buildings are safe for occupancy. All external cladding not rated as Class 0, the most stringent rating for combustible panels, has to be removed.

A further three buildings, including the tallest building in Singapore - Guoco Tower at Tanjong Pagar Centre, opted to remove their exterior cladding without going through any tests.

Alubond, a brand of aluminium composite panels, was singled out by the SCDF after it was found not to have sufficient fire protection. It was used as external cladding on a building in Toh Guan Road where a deadly fire broke out in May.

The removal of panels that do not meet the code has a bearing on insurance. So long as they are promptly removed, there will be no need to raise premiums or reduce coverage of insurance for buildings, said insurers here.

A spokesman for the General Insurance Association of Singapore said: "The immediate action taken by SCDF to work with building owners to rectify the situation within two months helps to ensure safe and secure homes and work environments in the longer term."

However, a spokesman for insurer Aviva said coverage for owners of private, landed homes with non-regulation cladding may be affected if they do not take any corrective action. "If they know they are at risk and refuse to do anything about it, it's possible that an insurer can decline the claim because of lack of due diligence," he said.

The product has been removed from the market by distributor Chip Soon Aluminium, but some building sub-contractors are demanding a refund or refusing to pay for their unsold stocks, the Straits Times has learnt.

Contractor Peh Beng Guan of PBG Aluminium and Glazing Works, told ST he wants a refund for the 75 Alubond panels in his warehouse, for which he had paid $29,025, but which no architect or contractor will touch now.

A contracts manager from another sub-contractor, Mr C. S. Lee, said his firm has been billed around $200,000 for Alubond-branded panels which they purchased from Chip Soon earlier this year, but is refusing to pay the amount as the product did not satisfy SCDF's regulations for external use. In Singapore, only panels that curb fire from spreading across the surface can be used on the building exterior.

"It has been very problematic for us to change from Alubond to another brand," said Mr Lee, who spoke on condition that his firm's name is not mentioned.

However, Chip Soon claims the Alubond panels meet a more reliable and accurate standard accepted around the world. ST understands that the panel distributor had also obtained certificates of compliance from locally accredited certification body TUV SUD PSB.

Said a Chip Soon spokesman: "The manufacturer is preparing a thorough report based on (its) intricate knowledge of the engineered product. It is standing firm on its quality and its products are certified by reputable and accredited testing procedures in international labs."

*** Two more brands of cladding found to be a fire risk: SCDF
They do not meet stringent standard here; SCDF says seven buildings could be affected
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 9 Dec 2017

Two more brands of aluminium composite panel used as external cladding here are being used improperly, and could pose a fire risk.

This follows an announcement earlier this year that Alubond-branded panels did not comply with the Fire Code, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said in a statement yesterday.

Seven buildings here could be affected in the latest case, said SCDF.

The two brands, Bolliya and Bolli-Core FR, do not meet Singapore's most stringent standard - Class "0" - for combustible external cladding here, tests show. Class "0", a British standard adapted for use in Singapore, requires fire tests to be conducted on the core of the material.

This is similar to what happened with the Alubond-branded cladding found on 34 buildings so far. Half of the buildings have had their cladding panels removed. For the remaining 17, the process is ongoing.

Cladding is used to provide insulation and weather resistance to buildings and to improve their appearance. Aluminium composite panels, or ACP for short, are panels which have a plastic or mineral core sandwiched by two incombustible aluminium skins.

For cladding to be used on external facades in Singapore, they must first be fire-tested and certified by accredited certification bodies here.

Despite possessing Certificates of Conformity (CoCs) stating that they met this standard, "sample tests reveal that the panels may not be Class '0' on the core", said the SCDF. Investigations are ongoing to determine how this came about.

In its statement, SCDF also identified two projects with unrestricted public access found to contain one or both brands of cladding material.

These buildings are JTC LaunchPad @ one-north - Blocks 73, 73B, 75, 77, 81, Ayer Rajah Crescent - and Vista Point at 548, Woodlands Drive 44. The latter building has not yet been tested.

The Straits Times understands that both panel models were made in China. They were certified by certification body Tuv Sud PSB.

Said the SCDF: "SCDF has engaged all affected building owners, and is working closely with them. They will be required to test or remove the cladding as the case may be, and to inform their tenants of the status of their cladding as conveyed to them by SCDF."

A JTC spokesman said it has been working with SCDF to replace any non-compliant panels. Tenants were informed and the replacement works will commence this month.

"The safety of the occupants in our buildings is of utmost priority to JTC," it said in a statement.

SCDF also found two other building projects using panels, which based on their certificates alone, do not meet the local requirements.

While the buildings have been assessed to be safe for occupancy due to existing fire safety provisions, owners have 60 days to remove non-compliant cladding, and enhance fire safety practices.

In addition, SCDF is working with the certification bodies to further identify other instances of non-compliant cladding, and "expedite their annual market surveillance audit of all models of composite panel with CoCs that meet the Fire Code requirements for use as cladding".

This is to verify that the models they certified are indeed compliant.

It will also direct all qualified persons, such as consultants and engineers of various building projects here, to submit information about their CoCs to SCDF. In addition, it is reviewing the fire safety regulations and certification processes relating to cladding "with a view to further tightening them", with the outcome slated for next year, said SCDF.

Flawed testing and certification process
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 9 Dec 2017

There are now three manufacturers of external cladding panels - Alubond, Bolliya and Bolli-Core FR - on the blacklist for failing local fire safety tests.

When Alubond was first singled out in August, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said there was no reason to suspect other cladding brands or models at the time. A fire had spread across the Alubond-branded external cladding of an office building in Toh Guan, killing one person.

But with three strikes against three brands now, affecting more than 50 buildings so far, this is no longer an isolated incident.

Yet there is no cause for great alarm as the Toh Guan fire is the only one out of 19,013 fires from January 2012 to June this year to involve external walls. Investigations into this case are still ongoing.

However, there is cause for a review. After all, how can sub-standard building materials that could put occupants at risk slip through Singapore's tough and stringent building controls?

The problem stems from how testing and certification of aluminium composite panels (ACPs) are done. Because ACP products are flammable to various degrees, many countries, including Singapore, abide by the most stringent fire safety standard for combustible cladding - the British Class "0" standard or its equivalent. While a Class "0" rated material can burn, fire cannot spread across its surface.

Manufacturers first test their products in overseas labs, which are then certified to be used here by accredited certification bodies.

But certification is, fundamentally speaking, a flawed process. Only a small sample is tested, and the actual panels being delivered to the construction site depend on the quality control of the manufacturer and the vigilance of the people installing them.

Panels from Alubond, Bolliya and Bolli-Core FR all possess the proper certificates for use as external cladding. Pull them off the building and subject them to further fire tests and the panels may still fail.

In England, it took the Grenfell Tower fire and the subsequent public anger to spark a comprehensive investigation into the use of ACP cladding there. More than 250 buildings were later found to have failed fire safety tests.

It is impossible to check each ACP for its fire performance as the testing procedure destroys each panel. As sampling is necessary, this makes it more critical to have effective testing, certification and regulation of building materials.

But adding to the complicated nature of testing here is a stricter requirement unique to Singapore. The fire test has to be conducted directly on the flammable core, which means having to peel away the fire-proof aluminium skins.

Some have said this is a form of ad-hoc, non-standard testing, which is hard to regulate since labs have no consensus on how to do so.

As SCDF stresses a zero-tolerance approach to this requirement, manufacturers must insist that labs carry it out while builders must abide by it.

It also falls upon certification bodies to verify whether this test has been done before a Certificate of Compliance (CoC) indicating the fire rating can be given.

The CoC is also not a magic pass - certification bodies still have to conduct periodic audits on the panels to ensure they continue to conform to those standards.

On its end, SCDF has said it has embarked on a review, due next year, to tighten the regulations and certification process for ACP cladding. Around 20 per cent of building projects here use such panels today, according to building plans submitted since 1985.

Whether the review results in rule changes, sterner penalties or an outright ban on ACPs, all stakeholders must know there should be no compromises on safety.

SCDF fire safety testing and processes meet highest standards

We refer to the report (Flawed testing and certification process; Dec 9).

The report said that the sampling method for the certification of aluminium composite panels (ACPs) is "a flawed process".

It is impractical and impossible to ascertain whether every composite panel used for cladding meets the required standards.

Doing so would require us to set each and every panel alight, after which there will be no panels left to install. Sampling is an internationally recognised method of testing.

To minimise the possibility of inconsistent manufacturing quality, we require annual audits of the product to be carried out subsequent to the initial certification.

The report also mentioned that SCDF's requirement, which mandates composite panels used as cladding to meet the fire safety standard of Class "0" when tested only on the core material is "unique to Singapore", and that Singapore imposes a "form of ad-hoc, non-standard testing, which is hard to regulate since labs have no consensus on how to do so".

We would like to point out that other jurisdictions, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, also adopt the same method of testing on core materials for composite panels used as cladding.

The SCDF is committed to ensuring that there are no compromises to our fire safety standards and processes.

We are working closely with stakeholders to review the fire safety regulations and certification processes relating to the use of composite panels as cladding.

Leslie Williams
Senior Assistant Director (Public Affairs Department)
Singapore Civil Defence Force
ST Forum, 16 Dec 2017

**** Parliament: No evidence at this stage that cladding certification is suspect, says Shanmugam
Investigation into use of cladding ongoing
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2018

Urging caution yesterday, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said there is no evidence at this point to suspect the reliability of the certification process for cladding materials used on buildings.

Mr Shanmugam noted that the certification system relies on laboratory reports of international and local institutes with sound reputations worldwide.

He gave this response in Parliament to Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, who had asked how non-compliant combustible panels were given certificates that allow their use on external facades in Singapore.

The cladding issue drew wide attention after an inferno last June that killed 71 people in a London residential high-rise was traced to combustible cladding used on the building.

Last month, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) carried out tests on buildings as part of a wide investigation into the use of aluminium composite cladding.

It found that two brands of aluminium composite panels used as cladding material - Bolliya and Bolli-Core FR - did not meet the required Class "O" standard, the most stringent standard for fire-rated combustible panels.

But the panels had been given Certificates of Compliance that rate them as Class "0".

Seven buildings have since been found to use these two brands.

Three have removed the panels, while the remaining four are in the process of taking them down, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister.

The same investigation last year uncovered 35 buildings using a brand that also failed SCDF's fire safety checks.

Panels made by the brand, Alubond, contributed to a fire at an industrial complex in Toh Guan Road, killing one person.

The panels have been removed from 17 buildings, while owners of the remaining 18 have yet to complete taking down the panels.

The investigation into the use of cladding in Singapore is ongoing, said Mr Shanmugam.

He added: "We will be investigating all possibilities, including whether there could be manufacturing defects, and differences between samples and actual material."

Dr Goh asked if other brands of cladding will be tested.

Mr Shanmugam replied that the SCDF has contacted industry partners, required qualified people to submit information about their buildings, and conducted a second round of checks, which was how the two cladding brands Bolliya and Bolli-Core FR were uncovered.

He said the annual audit by certification bodies in Singapore will be hastened, and this should cover all the other brands.

***** Review panel set up to investigate cladding issue, says SCDF
It will study fire safety rules on aluminium composite panels used on buildings
By Derek Wong, The Straits Times, 2 Feb 2018

A review panel has been set up as part of an ongoing probe into how safe external panels used on buildings here are in the event of a fire.

The panel will support the review of fire safety regulations relating to the use of aluminium composite panels (ACPs) as cladding, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said in a press release yesterday.

Results of the review will be announced by the end of this year.

This is part of an extensive probe started by SCDF after a fire in May last year at an industrial building in Toh Guan Road, in which a woman was killed. The fire reportedly spread across multiple floors via the building's external cladding, which was made by American brand Alubond.

The 13-member review panel includes senior officials from the relevant authorities, such as SCDF commissioner Eric Yap and Building and Construction Authority deputy chief executive (building control) Chin Chi Leong.

Also on the panel are Nee Soon South MP Lee Bee Wah, Nanyang Technological University School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Tan Kang Hai as well as industry representatives such as Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo and DP Architects director Mathieu Meur.

Mr Loo said it is early days yet but "everybody is looking for improvement".

"As the panel consists of people from various sectors, everyone will bring his expertise to the table," he said.

The certification of ACPs came under scrutiny after the SCDF probe found panels that did not meet standards were installed on some buildings here. Following the fatal fire in May last year, SCDF found 35 other buildings using Alubond cladding, which failed SCDF's fire-safety checks.

Building owners were given 60 days to remove the non-compliant cladding but 14 of these buildings have yet to remove the panels, according to the SCDF website. One of them is the Singapore Pools Building in Middle Road.

Two other brands of composite panels - Bolliya and Bolli-Core FR - also did not meet standards. Fewer than 20 per cent of buildings here use ACPs today, based on building plans submitted since 1985.

Some industry players, like engineering consultancy Arup Singapore's principal facade engineering leader Michael Chin, welcome the move to form a panel. "It's a good thing whenever there's more scrutiny into this," he said. "The devil is in the details and we really need to get to the bottom of this - we need a lot more data than we currently have."

His concern, however, is whether the panel will consider having tests conducted here instead of overseas for certification. He said the facade detailing in Singapore is different from those overseas as a result of factors such as climate.

Others, like consultant engineer Lee Seong Wee, hope the panel will avoid groupthink and expand its scope of investigations. "You need people who can challenge the official line. And also to take consideration of what is happening in the world (in terms of cladding) as well as go back all the way to examine projects built in the mid-1980s," he said.

In Parliament last month, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said there was no evidence so far to suspect the reliability of the certification process for these cladding materials. All possibilities will be investigated, "including whether there could be manufacturing defects and differences between samples and actual material".

Building cladding materials have also come under scrutiny in other countries. In June last year, a fire in the Grenfell Tower in Britain killed 71 people, with its external combustible cladding accelerating the spread of the blaze.

******  SCDF to introduce stricter rules on building cladding, including compulsory factory checks by the first half of 2019
SCDF will also propose legislation against wrong use of panels to ensure fire safety
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018

Factory checks and stricter testing requirements are among measures to be rolled out to ensure that building cladding used here meets fire safety standards.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will also propose legislation by next year to hold errant parties responsible if they cause panels to be used wrongly on building exteriors, it said yesterday.

The measures were proposed by a review panel formed in February to look into the safety of aluminium composite panels, which are commonly used to clad building exteriors.

It was set up after buildings were found to have used improper materials in checks following a fatal fire in a Toh Guan Road building in May last year, which had reportedly spread via the building's cladding.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the authorities will adopt the recommendations and introduce legislative changes by the first half of next year.

"We have standards, and the panels should all meet our standards. It's about how quickly fire can spread and we have (to use) the right panels that retard the spread of fire," he told reporters in a doorstop interview yesterday.

With the changes, it will be mandatory for manufacturers of composite panels to undergo annual factory inspections of their manufacturing processes. Inspectors will travel to the factories, including those overseas, to check on their quality control management.

Manufacturers must also permanently emboss critical fire safety information on the products, including the brand and model number, to prevent panels of varying performance from being mixed up at project sites and warehouses.

Builders must conduct a final test of the cladding panels sent to the project site. A sample of panels will be taken from the site and tested.

"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.

Another change is that fire safety products permitted for use here, including cladding panels, must have specific details such as country of origin on their certificates of conformity.

Such certificates will be issued only to locally registered companies, said SCDF, so that action can be taken against errant suppliers. Overseas manufacturers will not be able to supply their products to builders directly, and have to do so through a local distributor.

Mr Shanmugam said buildings still under construction will also have to comply with the new requirements, and there will be checks to ensure compliance.

The 13-member review panel headed by SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap also includes Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo, Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (Redas) president Augustine Tan and DP Architects director Mathieu Meur.

"These industry players can reflect (the cost factor of the changes) back to us, so we can make a sensible assessment," said Mr Shanmugam, adding: "But cost cannot be the primary criterion, because we are talking about safety."

Welcoming the changes, Redas' Mr Tan said developers also put a strong priority on safety, but a factor to consider is whether the stricter rules will increase construction time significantly.

To date, 60 buildings have been found with improper cladding since the start of SCDF's probe last year. Of these, 45 have already removed the cladding, and the other 15 are in the process of doing so, said SCDF.

Such removal efforts are costly, said Mr Tan Beng Leong, principal architect of TBL Architects, adding that it will be better if the improper panels were detected through stricter checks in the first place.

Key changes to rules
The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018

• Mandatory annual factory inspections for manufacturers of aluminium composite panels used on building exteriors.

• Certified suppliers and manufacturers of these composite panels have to undergo an annual quality audit of their factory management systems.

• Manufacturers must permanently emboss the panels with critical information, allowing builders to differentiate between products with different fire performance ratings.

• Certification bodies - laboratories which test the fire performance of building materials - must specify details such as manufacturer and country of origin on the panel's certificates so that important information can be easily verified.

• Samples of panels delivered to the construction sites must be tested as the final point of check.

• Qualified persons, such as project consultants or engineers, have to submit compliance certificates to the authorities for building approval. These persons are also expected to supervise the testing of panels taken from the construction site, and verify how these panels are to be used.

• Suppliers who cause the improper materials to be used in buildings will be held liable when the Fire Safety Act is amended next year.

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