Are more safety measures needed?

An incident involving a teenager who died after a fall at an Orchard Road mall last week has sparked discussion about safety measures in buildings.

Last Friday, Jonathan Chow Hua Guang, 17, fell from the fourth storey to his death from a linkway between Orchard Central and Orchard Gateway after he jumped over a barrier and onto a plasterboard casing ledge that was not meant to be load-bearing. It collapsed when he landed on it.

His father, Mr Matthew Chow, called for more safety measures although there had been a 1.2m barrier at the linkway.

Experts noted that Orchard Central's owner Far East Organisation had complied with safety standards and building codes.

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Yet some say extra precautions may be helpful.

Dr Goh Yang Miang, who chairs the health and safety engineering technical committee at The Institution of Engineers, Singapore, said as such "boxed-up architectural features" could look like solid ledges, and be potentially accessed despite safety barriers, warning signs could improve safety.

He added that under the Design for Safety regulations that came into force last August, developers, designers and contractors must plan for the safe building and maintenance of projects that have appointed a designer.

This includes expectations for developers and designers to identify any hazards and eliminate or mitigate them as much as possible, said Dr Goh.

But Orchard Central was designed before this change.

Associate Professor Chui Yoon Ping, head of the human factors in safety programme at SIM University, said a "false perception" may be created when the structure in question , which was long, solid and wide, looked like a concrete structure that could bear weight.

"Say if it was thinner or slanted at an angle, or narrower, or looked flimsy - someone would think twice before standing on it or jumping on it," she said.

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Architect John Ting said it was difficult to fault the designer or the owner of the building "as it is understood that everything that lies beyond a barrier poses a risk".

Architect Zahidi Abdul Rahman said extra safety measures such as warning signs would be superfluous.

"The barrier is more than sufficient to tell people that this is something they should not cross over. Accidents are unfortunate, but common sense should prevail, and we should not over-regulate," he said.

The Building and Construction Authority said building features such as ledges that are not load-bearing and made of lightweight material are not considered structural elements, and are therefore not regulated.

This article was first published on March 2, 2017.
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