A huge block of concrete collapsed from the ceiling in a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat toilet at Toa Payoh when a foreign domestic helper was about to clean the toilet, TODAY reported on Thursday (27 February).
The incident occurred on Wednesday (26 February) at around 5pm.
According to TODAY, IT manager Alan Fu, 55, said the domestic helper informed him about the incident via text message when he was at the foot of the public housing block.
“She sent me the photos, I came up and I took a look at it. It was terrible,” Mr Fu said. “It was a close call for her. We really have to count our blessings.”
Mr Fu’s father, 90, lives with his 30-year-old nephew who was at work when the incident happened. They stay in a five-decade-old HDB flat with three rooms, located in the east of Toa Payoh town, while Mr Fu lives separately.
He estimated the fallen block of concrete weighed about 10kg and half a metre in length.
Mr Fu also contacted the Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council for help but was then referred to HDB.
However, he was informed that HDB was unable to inspect the damage on the day, while a team from the town council’s Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU) arrived around 8pm to conduct a survey. HDB came by the following day (27 February) at around 10am.
He said a “goodwill” cost was offered to him, although he did not know the exact figure and estimated it would be “a few hundred”. This means that Mr Fu will need to divide the cost with HDB.
Mr Fu said the repair works are in progress and although it may take up to three days to finish, the family has no plans to move out at the moment. In the meantime, they will have to use a public toilet nearby until it is repaired.
He indicated the incident as “worrying and scary” as he did not know whose responsibility it was to fix the ceiling in the first place.
“I wasn’t aware of it. How many other households may face this problem?” he noted, adding that he heard of spalling incidents that happened to other people, but they were usually minor cases.
Mr Fu also questioned the flat owners’ awareness on their responsibility to check on spalling concrete until it happens to them. He noted that owners who are old such as his 90-year-old father are at risk as they may not be vigilant.
In response to the matter, member of parliament for the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Chong Kee Hiong said he was aware that Mr Fu was referred to HDB and explained that it is because the incident took place within a resident’s home so it falls under HDB’s charge.
The town council will only be responsible for incidents that happen outside of the flat, such as the common areas, he said.
“Even though (such cases) are not under the town council’s purview, what we usually do is activate and liaise with HDB for the resident to make sure HDB follows up,” Mr Chong noted.
Apparently, spalling concrete is common especially for older buildings which mostly caused by carbonation – a natural deterioration process – according to HDB’s website. Carbonation will cause the steel bars embedded in the ceiling slab to corrode, which results in the concrete cover to crack and budge.
HDB also highlighted that it is the flat owner’s responsibility to repair any spalling concrete in their flat.
Netizens shared their spalling concrete experiences and slammed HDB’s flat quality
Meanwhile, a photo of the incident was posted by an actor from the “Under One Roof” sitcom, Nicholas Lee, on his Facebook account on 26 February which has since gone viral.
Based on Mr Lee’s post, he acknowledged the incident happened to one of his friends.
He posted the photo with the caption, “So this happened in my friends dads #HDB flat. Can you imagine if someone was actually sitting there when the ceiling fell? PSA for those still living in old HDB flats – check the ceiling.”
Following that, some netizens commented on his post and shared their own spalling concrete experiences that took place in a HDB flat.
A commenter opined that HDB buildings are built in such a way to maximize affordability since they are on a 99-year leasehold.
Another commenter said HDB often indicates it is “safe” without any official agreement.
One commenter said she reported to HDB about a leak in her toilet ceiling, but HDB would not help to defray the cost unless her neighbour agrees to use the hacking method to stop the leaking. She ended up paying for the infusion method to stop the leaking for a few years.
Yet another person shared they had to pay $330 for the cost to repair the spalling concrete in their bathroom even after the 50% subsidiary from HDB.
Meanwhile, some others hinted that HDB offers high cost but the buildings are made of low-quality products.