Round-Up Speech by MOS Zaqy Mohamad on the Building Control (Amendment) Bill

Friday, 6 March 2020

Mr Speaker sir, I thank Members for their comments and their support of the Bill. Let me address the issues raised.


Mr Louis Ng asked why residential buildings and factories were not included under Clause 17, which requires for existing buildings without basic accessibility features to provide these when undergoing addition and alteration works. As I mentioned earlier, all buildings built since 1990 have to comply with the Code on Accessibility, including the provision of basic accessibility features. So, buildings in the last 30 years are compliant. The changes under Clause 17 target older buildings built before 1990, which do not have basic accessibility features.

We are applying this requirement to commercial and institutional building types as these are more frequently accessed by members of the public. This is a calibrated approach as we are mindful of the physical challenges in existing buildings, as well as the cost impact to building owners. Owners of residential and factory buildings can tap on the Accessibility Fund to co-fund up to 80% of the cost for installing basic accessibility features. The fund is available and I urge them to do so. 


Er Dr Lee Bee Wah asked about maintenance of facades. As mentioned earlier, we will put in place a new Periodic Facade Inspection regime. The regime provides a more structured approach towards inspection and maintenance of facades, so that owners can better meet their existing duty and enhance public safety. 

Er Dr Lee and Mr Faisal Manap also asked about the regulation and training of personnel involved in facade inspections. Owners will need to appoint a Competent Person (CP) to carry out facade inspections. The CP must be either a Professional Engineer or Registered Architect, and can be assisted by facade inspectors (FIs) in carrying out inspections. They do not have to do it all on their own, but there are other inspectors such as FIs that you can use. The FIs must be a Resident Engineer, Resident Technical Officer, or any other person who possesses the relevant qualifications and experience. 

CPs and FIs must undergo a compulsory facade inspection course. Since 2017, more than 200 individuals have successfully completed the course. BCA will also introduce inspection guidelines in due course, to guide CPs and FIs in performing their duties. These efforts will ensure that we will have a pool of qualified and competent personnel to support the new inspection regime. For these courses, they can also tap on SkillsFuture subsidies where available. 

Ms Sylvia Lim also asked about the terms used in defining the persons responsible for maintaining building facades, and about the responsibility for facade maintenance in HDB blocks.

Let me clarify that the Bill does not change this responsibility. The definition being amended relates to exterior features. The maintenance of exterior features that are part of any common property in HDB blocks is currently covered under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act, or BMSMA in short. Today, the person responsible for such maintenance is defined in the BMSMA as the Town Council, and not the HDB. In addition, the BMSMA’s definition of “person responsible” includes the Town Council’s contractor and the condominium’s managing agents, as long as they have charge and control of the common property. So, what we have done, is basically porting over clauses in the existing BMSMA into the current BC Act. In the BMSMA, it was the Town Council that was mentioned, not HDB. But in the current BC Act, you do have HDB and Town Councils – that is for retrofitting orders by Minister. But that will still be retained under Clause 13, in which the Minister can still designate the person responsible for retrofitting works to be HDB or Town Councils. There are no changes. To clarify again, the maintenance of exterior features and facades is under the Town Councils or their contractors; and for retrofitting, under HDB or Town Councils. So there is no change in the outcome.
And, to clarify on the co-payment by HDB, should you have some facade repair issues, that comes under an existing HDB co-payment scheme. I think the Member already knows that if it is found to be a facade repair issue, HDB co-funds 50 per cent; if it is found to be a design fault or construction issue, it will be 100 per cent covered by HDB. The scheme is in place and is not so much part of the Act. 

We have not changed the position when transferring the BMSMA provisions on maintenance of exterior features over to the BC Act. 

Ms Sylvia Lim also asked why Clause 20 of the Bill amends the Act to no longer mandate that inspections ordered under Section 24(1) be performed by an architect or professional engineer. She asked if this would have an impact on public safety. We expect most of the inspections to still be done by architects and professional engineers. However, depending on the specific situation, specialists with the necessary skills and competencies, such as in building materials and components, may be better equipped to carry out such inspections. The amendment allows for such specialists who may not be architects and PEs to be appointed to do inspections. There should be no impact on public safety. In fact, overall, it should be better because now we are allowing others with specialised engineering skills to carry out the inspections. 

Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Faisal Manap noted that the PFI regime entails costs. The schedule for the PFI has been set at seven years, to be tied in with the R&R that the TCs, MAs and MCSTs conduct, to save costs. Therefore, you can leverage on things that you typically have to do, such as setting up gondolas for painting the buildings, in order to reduce costs. BCA will work with owners responsible for many buildings to spread out the inspections in the initial phase to minimise any spike in costs. BCA is working on other measures to help manage costs. These include building up the pool of CPs and FIs, and exploring how technology can help to carry out inspections in a more effective and productive manner. 

In terms of whether there would be co-sharing of costs or additional funding provided to Town Councils for the new facade inspections, as building facades are part of common property under the purview of TCs, TCs are responsible for conducting regular inspections to ensure that the facades are in good condition. As I mentioned, the schedule for the PFI has been set at seven years, which can be tied in with Repair & Redecoration (R&R) schedule to save costs. BCA is also working on other measures. For example, BCA launched a grant call with HDB for the development of a drone inspection system to carry out automated facade inspection. This reduces manpower cost.

Expanding industry capacity to ensure public safety

Er Dr Lee Bee Wah and Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked about the number of lifts in Singapore and their reliability. There are 70,000 lifts in Singapore and the number of safety incidents arising from technical faults has been less than 30 per year over the last three years. We will continue to monitor this carefully, as we take the safety of all our users very seriously.

At the same time, the number of lifts in Singapore is expected to grow. We recognise Er Dr Lee Bee Wah and Mr Faisal Manap’s concern that there should be enough skilled manpower to keep our lifts safe and in working condition. That is why we have been working with the industry to build up capabilities and capacities at all levels.

The Professional Engineers Board introduced the Specialist Professional Engineer (SPE) in Lift and Escalator engineering in 2017. Today, there are about 90 SPEs, whose primary duties include supervising the installation of lifts and carrying out routine inspections. Their scope of work will increase with the new requirements under the Bill, to also include the certification of new installations.

To ensure that there continues to be enough competent personnel to inspect our lifts, BCA is working together with the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore and The Institution of Engineers, Singapore to train Lift and Escalator Inspectors (LEIs).

Graduates and diploma holders in the Mechanical & Engineering disciplines who have relevant experience will be able to apply for registration as LEIs. They will need to complete an LEI training course and pass an examination. These efforts will grow the pool of L&E professionals to meet increasing demand.

For lift maintenance technicians, BCA and ITE have introduced courses for the various Competency levels in the PWM to provide them with common engineering knowledge and skills on servicing lifts and their key components. Technicians will therefore be required to obtain the Specialist level Competency before they are allowed to service lifts independently once the regulations come into effect. To date, almost 400 of the 2,100 lift technicians in Singapore have received the Certificate of Competency (CoC). I urge employers to start training all their technicians. We are giving a grace period before we put in the regulations. We have put in more support now with SkillsFuture; and we really could help train and beef up our capabilities. 

Progressive Wage Model and Working Conditions

I thank Mr Zainal Sapari and Er Dr Lee Bee Wah for their support of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for the lift industry. The PWM provides a common competency and wage framework for all lift firms. This will benefit more than 1,000 local lift technicians and ensure that their remuneration is commensurate with their job responsibilities and competencies. For example, a lift technician with the Specialist level Competency will be able to earn a basic wage of at least $2,250, while a Master Specialist could earn $4,000 or more a month. BCA and ITE are also working with the industry to develop more courses to help lift technicians advance along their PWM career progression pathways. This will ensure consistency in training standards and facilitate job mobility, both of which were highlighted by Mr Zainal and Er Dr Lee.

As mentioned by Mr Zainal, we have indeed been engaging our stakeholders actively to encourage the early adoption of PWM. On the supply side, 40 lift firms, representing 95% of the market, have already committed to adopt the PWM. On the demand side, all Government Procuring Entities now award tenders only to lift firms that have adopted the PWM. BCA has been in discussions with Town Councils, trade associations and chambers and other major service buyers, who have also been supporting the PWM. We encourage service buyers to come on board early, to smoothen the transition to a mandatory one by 2022.

Mr Louis Ng asked about extending the PWM to foreigners in the lift industry. The intent of the PWM is to build a strong local core for the lift industry, and not to discriminate against foreigners. Mr Ng will be happy to know that several lift firms that have committed to implementing the PWM have also indicated that they provide their foreign lift technicians with comparable remuneration packages. BCA will require all lift technicians, including the foreigners, to be certified for the various Competency levels in the PWM, and we will encourage lift companies to incorporate other PWM principles for their foreign lift technicians as well. As they improve their skillsets, competencies and productivity, their wages will also come up, so as to be commensurate with the skillsets and skills pathways. 

Beyond the PWM, we also agree with Mr Zainal and Mr Ng on the need to improve the working conditions in the lift sector. BCA is working with the industry for new lifts to be designed with better working conditions for lift technicians, as part of the work of the Tripartite Cluster for the Lift and Escalator Industry, which Mr Zainal chairs. For example, I understand the Committee is looking at measures relating to improving minimum illumination levels and mechanical ventilation in the lift shaft, so that lift technicians can work in a cooler, brightly lit environment. For existing lifts, we encourage lift owners to proactively incorporate these improvements as part of their planned upgrading or modernisation works. The tripartite cluster can do its part, and certainly, we look forward to its recommendations.  

On Mr Zainal’s specific point, I would like to clarify that Clause 20 of the Bill allows the Commissioner of Building Control to issue orders with respect to lifts to prevent safety incidents, and not to improve working conditions.

Adopting Technology to Raise Productivity

As we raise wages and improve the working environment, we will also improve the safety and productivity of the L&E industry through the use of technology, as suggested by many MPs who have spoken today. One way is to use remote monitoring and diagnostics (RM&D) systems, which enable lift contractors to not only monitor lift operations in real time remotely, but to also troubleshoot and diagnose faults with greater accuracy.

Such systems are being used in some other countries in Europe, and BCA is exploring with the industry how this can be applied in our local context.  For example, BCA is working to develop a common standard for these systems that will facilitate more pervasive deployment of such technologies. 

If successfully deployed in Singapore, RM&D technology could enable us to shift to a use-based or predictive maintenance regime, as suggested by Mr Zainal Sapari and Er Dr Lee Bee Wah. Today, it’s very rigid in terms of monthly inspections, but that is because we do not have ways in which we can measure how often the lift is used and how far it travels. With technology, we are able to do it better and therefore, we can assess how soon or how often your lift needs to be maintained much more accurately. 

RM&D can also change the way lift technicians work in the future. A technician will be able to monitor all lifts under his charge from a remote location and in real time. When a fault occurs, the system will provide the technician with the necessary information to diagnose the fault and to attend to it immediately. This will reduce the amount of time the lift technician is required to spend doing maintenance work on site, which not only makes his job safer but also enables him to maintain a larger number of lifts, thus raising his productivity. These all fit into the whole PWM narrative, in which you want to see greater productivity, better skillsets and improved working conditions. Therefore, I think you can see the rationale of why you are  localising this set of jobs and taking it into the future.  We want more Singaporeans to come on board.

Maintenance of Lifts 

Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked about how we can ensure the adequacy of lift parts in order to meet the maintenance requirements under the Act, for example, by setting up a central national storage for such parts.  We agree that it is important for lift faults to be rectified in a timely manner. However, having a centralised storage of the various lift parts from different manufacturers and across different models is neither practical, nor cost effective. It’s going to be difficult. Instead, owners can take a preventive approach towards maintenance by planning ahead and scheduling replacement of lift components early, before they cause any issues. The RM&D systems I spoke about earlier, have the potential to help owners do this better.

Mr Zainal Sapari also raised concerns about major players exerting proprietary rights over their spare parts, and asked if we could adopt the EU’s practice of encouraging open and non-proprietary lift systems. We understand that the EU prohibits companies from restricting the sale of spare parts to other companies, and we have similar laws in Singapore that can deal with refusals to supply essential parts. It would not be practical to legislate that lift systems must be open and non-proprietary, because doing so would severely limit the selection of lifts available to Singapore, given the lift designs of many of our international lift manufacturers are actually quite proprietary. Just like cars, it’s very hard to interchange your parts between a Honda, a Kia and a Volkswagen, for example. You have to also be mindful that there are very few such models around. 

Mechanised Car Parking Systems (MCPS)

On Mechanised Car Parking Systems (MCPS), we agree with Er Dr Lee Bee Wah that they should be properly installed and maintained. There are about 260 MCPS today in Singapore, and about 10 or less MCPS were installed annually in recent years. The numbers are not huge. BCA will work out the details of the MCPS regulatory regime, and consult the industry further on the requirements for contractors and technicians. 

On Mr Gan’s question on HDB’s procurement of lifts, while it is not relevant to the Bill, I would like to assure the Member that HDB does enjoy economies of scale in its lift procurement. Each tender covers about 300 lifts, which is large by industry standards.  

Sir, I thank Members for their support of these amendments, which seek to reinforce our Building Control Act by strengthening the building regulatory control framework and to improve accessibility in our built environment.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.

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