08 Jul 2019

First Reading of the Fire Safety (Amendment) Bill

  1. The Fire Safety (Amendment) Bill 2019 (“Bill”) was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today.            
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    Background

     

  3. The Fire Safety Act (FSA) was enacted in 1993 to ensure the fire safety of buildings in Singapore. The Act empowers the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to set out fire safety requirements for buildings; gives SCDF legislative levers to maintain oversight of stakeholders in the building industry and take enforcement action against fire safety infringements; and sets out the statutory functions of SCDF in these areas. The last major review of the FSA was conducted in 2013.
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  5. While the number of fire incidents in Singapore has remained stable and our fire fatality rates are low, we must periodically review and update our fire safety regulations, so that they continue to remain robust and relevant, and we can effectively respond to new and evolving fire safety risks and challenges.

     

    Key Proposed Amendments

     

  6. The key provisions of the Bill seek to enhance the fire safety of buildings by strengthening SCDF’s regulatory and enforcement powers, optimising the use of SCDF’s resources to focus on higher risk areas, and refining regulatory processes to provide greater clarity to the industry.

     

    Strengthen SCDF’s Regulatory and Enforcement Powers

     

  7. SCDF regularly reviews the Fire Code, which specifies fire safety standards for buildings. However, changes to the Fire Code only apply prospectively to new buildings, and to existing ones that undergo addition and alteration (A&A) works. Currently, there are no levers to mandate owners of existing buildings which have not undergone any A&A works to install the latest fire safety measures as stipulated in the prevailing Fire Code. The Bill will empower Commissioner/SCDF to mandate building owners to install critical fire safety upgrades, such as fire alarm systems, and fire hose reels, if they are deemed necessary for public safety. In exercising this mandate, SCDF will adopt a judicious, risk-based approach in identifying buildings for fire safety upgrades. For example, relevant considerations include the buildings’ fire risk profile, based on factors such as building age, purpose and the profile of its occupants.

     

  8. The Bill will also increase the penalties for five serious offences under the FSA to enhance deterrence. The offences mainly relate to the unauthorised change of use of premises which may render the existing fire safety measures inadequate, as well as failures on the part of industry professionals such as Qualified Persons (QPs) and Registered Inspectors (RIs) to responsibly discharge their duties of supervising and certifying fire safety works. For example, the penalty for unauthorised change of use of premises will be raised from a maximum fine of $10,000, to a maximum fine of $200,000 and/or up to two years’ jail. The penalty for the failure of an appointed QP to supervise fire safety works will be raised from a maximum fine of $10,000 and six months’ jail, to a maximum fine of $200,000 and/or up to two years’ jail. The increased penalties reflect the severity of these lapses in fire safety. QPs and RIs play a critical role in ensuring that buildings meet the fire safety standards stipulated in the Fire Code. Failure to perform their roles responsibly could result in drastic consequences such as loss of lives and damage to property. The enhanced penalties are aligned with those of similar offences under other Acts such as the Building Control Act.

     

  9. Currently, when dealing with fire hazards, SCDF must first issue a Fire Hazard Abatement Notice[1] and can only take action against the errant parties if they fail to comply with the Notice. Given that some fire hazards may pose serious and significant fire safety risks, such as causing or failing to prevent overcrowding, non-maintenance of fire safety measures, or obstruction of fire escape routes, the Bill will empower SCDF with the option to take immediate prosecutorial action in such cases.

     

  10. Currently, SCDF cannot enter premises that are not directly related to possible FSA violations even though relevant information may be retrieved from them (e.g. offices of the vendors of fire safety products). SCDF also does not have the power to summon persons to give their statements, thus hindering investigations of FSA violations. The Bill will expand SCDF officers’ investigative powers to allow them to investigate any person for fire safety violations, and to take statements from person(s) about possible fire safety offences, if there is reasonable suspicion of an FSA offence. In addition, the Bill will allow SCDF officers to enter any premises that may have evidence linked to FSA offences.

     

  11. SCDF regulates fire safety products and materials that may pose higher fire safety risks or are crucial to ensure the fire safety of a building. The Bill will empower SCDF to prevent and stop the use of non-compliant regulated fire safety products by taking action against any party in the supply chain (e.g. suppliers of fire safety products, contractors and certification bodies). To deter the upstream supply and use of non-compliant regulated fire safety products, the Bill will make it an offence for any party to supply or offer to supply such products, and for any person to install these products or cause them to be installed. To address downstream supply and use, the Bill will empower SCDF to direct the cessation of sale, recall, removal, disposal or rectification of any non-compliant products.

     

  12. Currently, SCDF has the power to require building owners to test fire safety products to prove that they meet required standards. However, there may be situations where the responsibility of carrying out such tests should lie with other actors in the supply chain. The Bill will empower SCDF to direct Certification Bodies[2] (CBs), holders of Certificates of Conformity (CoC), or suppliers to test fire safety products.

     

  13. In addition, the Bill will empower SCDF to issue an order to CBs to: (a) cancel an existing CoC if the product is proven to be non-compliant or if the CoC holder does not comply with SCDF’s order to test the product, and/or (b) stop issuing new CoCs to a particular CoC holder.

     

    Optimise SCDF’s Resources

     

  14. Currently, SCDF relies on third-party fire alarm operators to monitor and verify alarms in higher-risk premises before deploying SCDF’s resources. SCDF has observed an increasing number of false alarms from buildings which have alarms monitored by these operators, resulting in unnecessary deployment of SCDF’s emergency resources. The Bill will introduce a licensing framework to regulate these operators to ensure minimum service standards and service continuity for building owners, and to impose a cost recovery fee on operators for false alarms resulting in the deployment of SCDF’s resources. In addition, the Bill will make it an offence for operators to fail to verify the alarm before cancelling the request for SCDF’s resources.

     

  15. To allow SCDF officers to focus on more complex enforcement inspections, the Bill will empower SCDF to appoint authorised third party officers to conduct routine fire safety enforcement checks and building inspections. These officers will be required to wear body-worn cameras when they carry out inspections and will be subject to audits conducted by SCDF.

     

    Refine Existing Regulatory Processes

     

  16. The Bill will refine existing regulatory processes to ensure clearer and more effective regulation. This includes making it clear that the latest version of the Fire Code that is in force is the version published on SCDF’s website; and amending the definition of fire safety works to explicitly include the use of any fire safety product or material that impacts fire safety.


[1]A Fire Hazard Abatement Notice is a written warning requiring errant parties to abate the fire hazard within a specified period, and to take all necessary steps to prevent the recurrence of the hazard. Under the FSA, if the hazard is not addressed, a Notice of Composition will be issued. For the more serious cases, court action can be taken against the errant parties.

[2] Regulated fire safety products listed under the Product Listing Scheme of the Fire Code have to be certified by CBs accredited by the Singapore Accreditation Council. The supplier/manufacturers will send their products for testing based on the specified test standards, and submit the test reports to the CBs for their verification. CBs will then issue a CoC for the product, if it meets the criteria.

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