Why enforcement officers secretly love 4 feet corridors – 29 Jun 2015

Posted on June 29th, 2015 in Food for thought


By now, after the unhappiness over the too-narrow-for-comfort corridors of Pasir Ris One DBSS, many of you now know that the corridor width of 1.2 m meets the minimum width required by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to prevent obstruction to common corridors and fire fighting equipment, which may endanger lives during emergency evacuation.

Having previously served in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the area of regulations (The only non-financial stint in my mainly finance career), I would like to share how our government think  about regulations and enforcement.

How does one strike a balance between enforcement and regulation? Everybody knows it is not possible to catch every single person who runs foul of a regulation. Is the National Environment Agency able to catch everyone who litters? No. Can the police catch every single loanshark or vice operator using a HDB flat? Again, no, as much as the government wish it possible.

Enforcement is a very labour intensive activity. Imagine checking every HDB unit for vice activity (assuming no reliance on tip offs). There are about 1,000,000 HDB units in Singapore versus about 40,000 people in the entire police force . Just covering all HDB units will take everyone in the police force one full day assuming each personnel is assigned to 25 different HDB unit inspection a day. What about the other duties of the police? Will they be neglected? Yet, a HDB unit that passes an inspection today could house a vice den the very next day. Do we then have to check every HDB unit every day? What about non-HDB units?

The question our government ask internally all the time, is how best to influence and shape the conduct of the regulated –through enforcement, regulation, guidelines or by doing nothing and hope that people behave in a a scocially responsible way?

Nobody likes being regulated. Yet by allowing them to go about inhibited, will everyone behave sensibly?

Most officers do not like enforcement work. It involves a degree of controntation and can get pretty ugly. An officer trying to enforce a regulation or guideline may be scolded or even attacked. Checking for a breach as previously mentioned is labour intensive. In reality, spot checks are made, supplemented by tip offs.

By building narrow corridors that meet the bare minimum width required by SCDF, the Pasir Ris One DBSS developer has makes the job of enforcement officers much easier. Do not misunderstand that SCDF regulates the width of the corridors in HDB estates. The corridor can be of any width and residents can clutter the corridor all they want, as long as a minimum escape passage of 1.2 m clearance is maintained.

Can you imagine if residents clutter the corridors in different degree such that at some streches it is 1.1 m and at others, it is 1.6 m depending on what flower racks, shoe cabinets, bicycles etc are placed along the corridor? The enforcement officer would have to measure the width at different length. It would be a very labourious inspection. If there are about 1,000,000 HDB flats, can you imagine the number of corridors to be inspected for measurement? Any enforcement officer would go crazy and resign the next day.

Now, imagine having to inspect only 1.2 m wide corridors. An enforcement officer woud need just a quick glance to see if the corridor is free of clutter such as flower pots or shoe racks. If the corridor is clear and empty, pass. If there are obstructions on one or both sides, fail. 100% inspection efficiency.

Of course, there are easier ways to go about it too for a  wide corridor.  Just make sure a line is drawn at one side so that residents know the limit that they can place their plants and shoe racks. This would also allow for a quick visual inspection.

The good news is that, as per the latest building code guidelines in Singapore, the minimum corridor width will be set to 1.5 m as shown in the Building and Constrution Authority slides below. Narrow corridors will be a thing of the past!

updated corridor width

New Width Guidelines

My Best Always,

Douglas Chow

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