‘Check buildings for flammable cladding’

PUTRAJAYA: In the wake of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) office fire, building owners have been urged to remove any cladding if it is made of flammable material.

Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Tan Sri Noh Omar said the material used in the Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya, building’s cladding was polystyrene foam, which caused Tuesday’s fire to spread and engulf the building’s exterior in a matter of minutes.

“From the outside, the cladding looked rock solid, but in fact it was polystyrene. That was how the fire spread so quickly,” he told a press conference here yesterday.

“Thankfully, firemen arrived in five minutes and put out the fire.

“A previous incident at the Kuala Lumpur Library was also caused by the same thing.

“Building owners with such cladding should remove it immediately,” he said, adding that they could contact the Fire and Rescue Depart­ment for advice if they were not sure whether or not the material was flammable.

Noh added that the department found no elements of foul play in the EPF fire.

“It affected only 5% of the building. Investigations show it was caused by waterproofing works.

“A flame gun was used to melt the waterproofing membrane.

“The cladding accidentally caught fire and it spread really fast. The contractor doing the waterproofing was not aware that the cladding material was flammable,” Noh said.

He added that although proprietors need the Fire and Rescue Department’s approval before their buildings can be certified safe, most of them do not seek it when they conduct renovations later on.

The installation of the cladding at the EPF building was done in 2003.

In Petaling Jaya, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health called for a nationwide safety audit on all high-rises to check if any used flammable cladding.

Its chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said he was shocked by findings that the cladding on the EPF building did not meet fire and safety standards.

“After the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London last year, I alerted the authorities to check if there could be a similar occurrence here.

“What is important now is that we coordinate efforts to prevent something similar from happening here,” he said when contacted.

In the early morning hours of June 14 last year, a fire broke out at public housing flats in Grenfell Tower, killing 71 people, including many children, and injuring at least 70.

Institute of Engineers Malaysia president Dr Tan Yean Chin said material used for facades and cladding, especially high-rises, should not be flammable.

“That is the top priority. (Developers) need to select material that is not flammable. Cladding is used mostly for aesthetic purposes,” he said.

However, the emphasis in material selection should be on safety rather than beauty, he added.

A check with the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) showed that it does not require developers to give an in-depth report on the materials used in their developments.

Materials approved for buildings do not even require a valid fire rating, it was found. MBPJ is satisfied as long as the materials are made according to certain specifications.

“They (developers) basically just have to let our building control department know what materials will be used, but not in detail,” said MBPJ councillor Sean Oon.

“For example, if they plan to use wooden or timber flooring, they do not need to tell us what material is used for insulation underneath.”

Oon added that MBPJ was not stringent when it came to materials used for construction, whether for the exterior or interior.

However, he added, there had been cases where proposed materials were rejected such as mirrors or highly reflective surfaces on building exteriors.

“This obviously poses a danger to motorists as reflected light from these surfaces would affect their view on the road,” he said.

In Kuala Lumpur, Mayor Tan Sri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz said City Hall does have guidelines on the quality and type of construction materials used for its projects, and that they are similar to the Fire and Rescue Department standard.

“To be honest, we don’t really go into the details of the materials.

“But in light of the EPF fire, we will have a re-look at our procedures,” he said.