MALAYSIA’S TOWERING INFERNO SAGA CONTINUES

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) is highly concerned with the lack of regard by the authorities for fire safety in our country.

At 11.50am on 13 February a fire that started during some maintenance work on the EPF building in Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya was able to spread quickly because the cladding on the exterior wall of the building was made from a material that did not comply with specifications.

News articles have quoted the material as polyethylene/polyurethane/polystyrene; in general we call this material poly-foam. Any of this sounds familiar?

In July of last year, CAP had already voiced our concerns that the high-rise buildings in Malaysia could possibly share the same fate as the Grenfell Tower in London that went up in flames because of the non-fire retardant cladding (aluminium sheets with a polyethylene core) attached to the exterior wall of the building.

We even wrote to the Fire Department, Ministry of housing and Local Government on this matter and we were informed that all buildings in Malaysia adhere to the Uniform Building By-Laws 1984 (UBBL 1984).

The UBBL 1984 states that material used on the exterior of a building must be non-combustible or Class O material, if the cladding is less than 1.2 meters away from the external wall or (even if the distance between cladding and exterior wall is more than 1.2 meters) is more than 18 metres in height.

If the UBBL 1984 were truly being adhered as we have been informed by the authorities then the fire incident at the EPF building would not have happened.

If for some reason the Fire Department had been delayed and reached the EPF building later than the reported 5 minutes, the incident could have very well been a repeat of the tragedy that happened at the Grenfell Tower.

In light of this we call on the relevant authorities to take the following measures immediately:-

The Fire and Rescue Department must conduct mandatory check across the country at all high-rise buildings to ensure that safety specifications have been complied with.

The UBBL 1984 must be amended to specify that material used for cladding (or anything similar to that) should be non-flammable/fire retardant. Material that is “less flammable” should not be acceptable.

It must be mandatory for the Fire and Rescue Department to inspect a building after it has undergone renovations to determine whether it is safe.

Action must be taken against all parties who allow flammable materials to be used in building renovation projects.

Action must be taken to ensure that the UBBL 1984 is gazetted in all the states in Malaysia.

Letter to the Editor, 19 February 2018

Shock-ing Toys For Children

Besides the numerous hazardous toys that are on sale in supermarkets, shops and stalls throughout the country, there are novelty items that are capable of giving an electric shock that have made a comeback.

It was spotted in a recent survey by the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and we were able to buy “Shock Chewing Gum” at RM6.00 each.

It is designed to look like Wrigley’s chewing gum complete with ingredients. A strip of the ‘chewing gum’ protrudes out for it to be pulled. When someone pulls the ‘chewing gum’, it triggers a switch which sends an electric charge through the arm of the person. This person will feel a sharp electric shock surging through his arm.

Such devices also come in the form of novelty pens and toy pistols which gives the person using the pen or pressing the trigger of the pistol a sharp electric shock.

We appeal to those who possess or think of buying one of these toys to seriously consider if they want to hurt their friends for what-they-consider as ‘fun’. They might think that it is amusing but it is not so to the person who suffers the agonising pain besides being a potential danger to those with health concerns.

It was reported that a teacher in Sacramento, U.S.A., received a shock from a novelty pen given by a student and was unable to use her hand for a while then felt dizzy “in a couple of days”. She was once enjoying good health but after that incident her doctor diagnose her as suffering from severe arrhythmia and nerve damage of the hand.

Such toys have been banned in some school districts in the U.S. Countries such as Greece and Cyprus have banned such novelty toys.

The packaging material did carry a warning that the toy should not be given to children below the age of 15, those above 50, and those having health conditions. However, who is monitoring the purchase and use of such toys? In fact, anybody can buy it and use it on anyone as they are targeting children to buy them and would they abide by the fine print warning on the packaging material? Would children know and care if a person has heart problems or epilepsy and that it is not supposed to be used on a person who uses a pacemaker or other electronic devices in their body?

CAP calls on Ministry of Domestic Trade Co-Operatives and Consumerism to immediately crackdown, seize and ban all such novelty products sold in the market. They should also determine how such product were imported into the country.

The Ministry of Health should address the impact on a person’s health upon exposure to such toys.

The Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumers Affairs should immediately look into this matter as the novelty toy manufacturer replicated Wrigley’s chewing gum and selling it as a dangerous toy. If it is not a dangerous toy then why must the manufacturer print the health warning on the toy and its packaging?

Such is a flimsy way to exonerate itself from law suit just in case a mishap occurs.

Moreover, the law states that children toy manufacturers and distributors have registered and must attach a Certificate of Conformance to obtain a certified MC KPDNKK logo for each toy before they can be marketed.

The Ministry of Health also needs to address the impact on a person’s health upon exposure to such toy.

CAP calls on the relevant authorities to ban this kind of toy because it is certainly not a ‘novelty’ to the person experiencing the trauma and pain from the sharp electric shock. We are also keen to know how such dangerous toys can be imported and sold under the very noses of the authorities.

Press Statement, 9 February 2018

LITTLE INDIA IS A POTENTIAL FIRE HAZARD

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) wishes to differ from the Malaysian Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Penang (MICCI) president Datuk N. Gobalakrishnan’s opinion and that of the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) on the setting up of temporary canopies in Little India.

It is not only that the haphazard erection of canopies obstruct fire engines and ambulances from entering Little India but the buildings themselves are a fire hazard.

There were 700 cases of house fires in the first three months of 2016 alone; 1,816 in 2015; 3,066 in 2014; and 3,235 in 2013. In August 2015 a fire broke out at a clothing and sundry shop in Little India. It took 71 firemen from various fire stations close to seven hours to put out the blaze. Deepavali fell on 10 November that year. Imagine what would have happened if the fire had happened during the first week of November.

We would like to point out that many of these shop-houses have a staircase, either towards the front of the house or to the rear. Although it is usual for houses to have one staircase, given the age and design of pre-war houses, these are certainly death traps.

While some of the narrow backlanes have been obstructed by vehicles parking there, a few of the buildings even had their backdoors padlocked. As many of the houses dated back to the early to mid-19th century, some of them were built back-to-back without a backdoor! Residents of these houses without a backdoor can only flee through the front windows but the windows may have grills or are obstructed by oversized signboards.

The prospect is horrifying if the fire starts from the ground floor during the night because its occupants might not be able to escape. The staircase serves as a ‘chimney’ for the hot gases and smoke from the highly combustible materials to rise into the upper floor thereby trapping the occupants.

It is impossible to dismantle the canopy to rescue anybody at the front window even if there is no window grille to deal with because in a fire fuelled by highly flammable material (synthetic material, oils, or cooking gas), every second counts.

For the occupants to safely climb down a ladder the ‘four-to-one’ rule applies. The rule states that for every four feet of height you have to climb, the base of the ladder has to move a foot away from the wall. With the canopy fronting the full width of a building, a ladder would not be able to lean on the building since for a vertical 20-foot climb you need to place the ladder between five to six feet away from the wall. Do we have that space to spare? No!

Hence, we wonder how the MBPP and the MICCI managed to overlook this critical issue of Little India being a huge fire risk. We also understand that many of these shop-houses have people living in them and this demands even greater concern.

We wonder if the Fire and Rescue Department had been consulted about the erection of canopies especially when fire safety is its prime concern. Why have various quarters been dragging their feet to get the canopies removed?

Press Statement, 10 October 2017

TRAFFIC OBSTRUCTION AT LITTLE INDIA

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) calls on the City Council of Penang Island (MBPP) to take action on canopies that obstruct the roads (particularly China Street, Penang Street, King Street and Market Street) in Little India.

During a recent survey, CAP found that the pitching of canopies concentrated along sections of China Street, Penang Street, King Street and Market Street.

CAP wonders how the canopies can be permitted because the size of the canopies are so huge that they would not leave enough space for a fire engine or ambulance to pass.

Section 46 (4) of the Street Drainage and Building Act 1974 allows “temporary obstructions on occasions of festivals, etc.” on the roads, it specifically stated that “nothing herein shall prevent the local authority from allowing any temporary erections in any public place or the temporary use of any part of a public places on occasions of festivals and ceremonies”.

However, the MBPP should consider the fact that the canopies are erected by the shops that already have the goods within their premises.  It does not make sense why these businesses have to extend their display out into the street.

By banning vehicles from entering Little India by MBPP on weekends is not a solution because the entire area is a fire trap by itself. Imagine what happens when a fire breaks out. Fire engines and ambulances would not be able to enter the enclave due to road obstructions. With the pre-war houses so tightly packed and stocked with highly flammable materials (clothes, plastic decorations, oil for prayer lamps, cooking oil, camphor and ghee), how can a fire be accessed and controlled.

Many of the pre-war houses were built without safety features required by modern standards. Thus, how will the residents flee when a fire breaks out?

One such example was when two adjoining pre-war shophouses at King Street were razed in August 2015 blaze. Fortunately it did not take place in October that year during Deepavali, otherwise it would have become a more complicated situation for the Fire and Rescue Services Department. Despite that, it was reported that it took 71 firemen more than an hour to extinguish the fire.

Given the age of the buildings around Little India, they are actually a fire hazard and if there is an event of fire, it is incomprehensible how fire engines can have access to the fire site or fire hydrant. Although Section 46 (4) of the Street Drainage and Building Act 1974 allows temporary erection in public places, the responsibility lies squarely on the local authority to use good sense to permit or forbid.

Another concern is that pedestrians, in many cases, are forced to walk on the street because some sections of the five-foot ways are obstructed either by displays, furniture (tables and chairs in the case of food outlets), or permanent grilles.

In fact, owners of such properties should be prosecuted under Section 46 (1) of the same Act that forbids obstruction of any public place, inclusive ‘footpaths and verandah-ways at the sides of streets’ without written permission of the local authority.

Although MBPP had decided to turn Little India into a pedestrian mall, CAP feels that the businesses in the area should not be allowed to pitch canopies because of they will deprive cars of parking spaces and congest the area which has numerous other businesses and offices. Moreover, we also have to consider the problems faced by transport vehicles that have to load or unload goods.

CAP calls for an immediate dismantling of these canopies for the above reasons and would suggest that these shops can conduct festive sales at the nearby Esplanade or at SPICE where sales are conducted under one roof during festive seasons.

Press Statement, 5 October 2017

Proposed Pharmacy Bill – Unjustified

The Consumers Association of Penang is disappointed at the Ministry of Health’s decision not to separate the roles of dispensing and prescribing.  Cleared the Ministry of Health has bowed down to the pressure of the powerful medical lobby in refusing to create a system of separation of duties in prescription and dispensing. Separation of dispensing and prescribing is the norm in developed countries. It is most ironic that a nation aspiring to attain high-income status by 2020 takes a retrogressive stand in healthcare practices.

It is completely unjustifiable to say that this is to cater to the needs of patients especially in rural areas. Countries like India and Indonesia with large rural populations have long practised separation of dispensing and prescribing with no issues. It is the universal norm that doctors diagnose and prescribe while pharmacists audit and dispense. To make a policy decision and legislate against this universal practice is absolutely mind-boggling and unfair. On what basis does the Ministry of Health deny a profession of its fundamental role?

What should be of paramount importance to the Ministry of Health as custodians of public health  is medication safety – which has been identified by leading health organisations like World Health Organisation, US Food and Drug Safety and UK’s National Health Safety as the main priority in addressing patient safety challenges.

A 2007 US Institute of Medicine report showed that medication errors originate most often during the medication prescribing process. At least half of these prescribing errors are detected and corrected when pharmacists review the safety and appropriateness of the medication.  Having the same doctor prescribe and dispense as in Malaysia eliminates that safety net.

Standards of general practice in Malaysia are still not up to international mark. We still have doctors not labelling their medications and giving patients just a plastic envelope with some pills in it.  It is also common practice that the staff handling medications is not trained for the job.  Hence there is no check for the safety and appropriateness of the prescription and any potential-medication related problems. This should be the primary concern of the Ministry of Health.

CAP urges the Attorney-General to reject this bill as it contravenes the basic principle of medication safety.

Press Statement, 27 September 2017