SINGAPORE: The minimum height requirement of 1m for safety barriers in commercial buildings in Singapore is “consistent” with other countries, authorities said, following reports of two people falling to their deaths in shopping malls in less than three years.

Last Sunday (Jul 14), a 35-year-old man died after falling from a height at Ngee Ann City. Police have classified the case as an unnatural death and are investigating.

In 2017, 17-year-old Jonathan Chow died after falling four storeys in another Orchard Road mall. He had jumped off a link bridge connecting Orchard Central and Orchard Gateway, landing on a ledge which collapsed under his weight.

According to the Building Control Regulations, under a section on safety from falling, “appropriate measures shall be taken to prevent people from falling from a height” where there is a vertical drop in level of 1m or more.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) lists safety barriers as part of these “appropriate measures”, noting that the height of the barriers should not be less than 1m.

READ: 35-year-old man dies from fall in Ngee Ann City

In response to queries from CNA, a BCA spokesperson said that before 2007, the minimum height requirement for safety barriers was 0.9m.

“The requirement for safety barriers installed from 2007 onwards was raised to 1,000mm (1m) after a review of the building regulations and standards,” the spokesperson stated.

“The current minimum height requirement for safety barriers is consistent with the standards in other countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.”

CNA visited a number of shopping malls in Orchard Road and found that most of them had safety barriers which met the current requirement.

Ngee Ann City’s barrier is about 1.02m tall, while other malls like Wisma Atria (1m), ION Orchard (1.1m) and Wheelock Place (1.07m) had barriers of similar height. Lucky Plaza’s barrier measures about 0.95m in height.

CURRENT HEIGHT REQUIREMENT GOOD ENOUGH, EXPERTS SAY

Architect Goh Chong Chia, who has more than four decades of experience in the industry, called the current requirement “more than sufficient”.

“One metre is almost universal,” he told CNA. “It is quite high to keep people from falling over. I don’t know what (the man in Ngee Ann City) did to somehow go over the edge.”

Dr Goh added that “there must be some special circumstances as to how” the man fell, noting that it “doesn’t make sense” to block ledges in malls with walls or tall glass panels for safety.

Mr David Ng, a member of the civil and structural technical committee at The Institution of Engineers, Singapore, agreed.

“This measure has been well implemented and effective,” he said. “All commercial buildings have to abide by BCA’s regulations to install the 1m barrier and this acts as a basis for adequate safety measure.”

Likewise, Associate Professor Chui Yoon Ping, head of the Human Factors in Safety programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said the requirement is sufficient.

However, she noted that barriers designed with horizontal elements which encourage climbing, or those with wide openings where kids can get stuck or fall through, are not effective.

“Other considerations are that the barrier may not be very effective for extremely tall persons,” she added.

READ: Death of teen who fell from Orchard Central ledge should serve as ‘sad cautionary tale’: Coroner

If glass is used in the barrier, BCA regulations state that the glass should be able to “withstand the loading for which it is designed and shall not be susceptible to spontaneous breakage or to shattering”.

Nevertheless, Assoc Prof Chui said a safe barrier is one that is taller than the average Singaporean male’s waist height. “I would think that it is less than 1m,” she added.

TIME TO REVIEW REQUIREMENT?

But a director at the National Safety Council of Singapore said it could be time to “revisit” this requirement, given that under Workplace Safety and Health regulations, the minimum height for barriers that protect from falling in construction areas is 1.1m.

“There should not be so much of a difference,” Mr Salahuddin Abdul Samad told CNA, adding that “0.1m is quite a lot”.

Mr Salahuddin said the barrier should at least be taller than the navel height of an average Asian, noting that this figure is likely above 1m.

“This is basic to prevent falls, not only for the public, but for any occupier of the commercial building,” he stated. “Anything which is waist height, people can just topple over easily. Because that’s a fulcrum point.”

Beyond safety barriers, Mr Salahuddin said other measures to prevent falling include ledges that extend beyond a barrier, and staggered floor layouts that prevent a full drop to the ground floor or basement.

These features should be incorporated during a building’s design to prevent “accidental falls”, he said, noting that an extended ledge that supports greenery or a staggered triangular floor plan could also be aesthetically pleasing.

The BCA spokesperson said the authority will “implement new safety measures where necessary”.

“BCA will continue to conduct regular reviews of our building rules to ensure rigour and compatibility with international standards,” the spokesperson added.