Shower cubicle death sparks concerns about glass safety

BROKEN: Mr Kevin Fong's tempered glass panel suddenly shattered last month. He suspects it may have been caused by a mistake during installation.

When he turned on the bathroom light in his Clementi flat one day last month, analyst Kevin Fong was horrified to see his glass shower cubicle in smithereens all over the floor.

The tempered glass panel, which was fine when the family left home hours earlier, had shattered, mostly into tiny fragments.

"I contacted the supplier the next day and we suspect that there was a problem during installation so it was missing a bracket, which made the glass wobble beyond its usual threshold," said Mr Fong, a father of two.

The shower cubicle had been installed just over two years ago, he said.

While Mr Fong and his family were lucky to not be injured, others were not as fortunate.

Last week, a Coroner's Inquiry into the death of Mr Sebastian Wong, 24, revealed that he died in January after he fell on to the glass door of a shower cubicle, and sharp fragments pierced his neck.

But is this cause for homeowners to worry?

Not exactly, said Mr Gary Lee, business development manager of Singapore Safety Glass (SSG), which supplies treated glass to builders around the world.

SSG's local projects include the Supreme Court, River Safari and Changi Airport Terminal 3.

Mr Lee noted that in Mr Wong's case, the shower screen had been made of heat-strengthened glass instead of tempered glass.

"When tempered glass breaks, it shatters into smaller pieces which have 'softer' edges, such that even if you get cut, it's less serious than 'ordinary' glass, which has very sharp edges," he said.


On the other hand, heat-strengthened glass breaks into shards similar to untreated glass, or annealed glass, said Mr Lee.

"When people refer to safety glass, it's only two types: tempered glass or laminated glass. One big misconception has been that any glass becomes 'safety glass' just because safety film has been applied on it," he said. 

A safety film is a large piece of sticky tape pasted over glass to hold the shards together in case it breaks.

But it provides a false sense of security because if the glass has not been treated properly, it can still cut through the film and hurt someone badly, he added.

Interior designer Ian Teo, who has 16 years of experience in the industry, said the industry standard has been to use tempered or laminated glass within homes, especially for bathrooms and areas which may see high traffic.

"While clients might want to use normal untreated glass because it's cheaper, I would advise them to use either tempered or laminated glass simply because it is safer," Mr Teo said, adding that for the more cost conscious, he would make provisions in his designs for the glass to be put in areas where there is a low chance of breaking, such as a display cabinet.

Laminated and tempered glass can cost up to 50 per cent more than untreated glass, said Mr Teo, adding that one can check whether one has treated glass installed by checking the corner of a glass panel for the manufacturer's mark.

While there are regulations for types of glass that can be used for the exterior of a building such as windows and at balconies, the type of glass used within the home is up to the home owner.

For instance, home owners who want to fit their windows with tempered glass- which has a tendency to spontaneously shatter - have to ensure the shards do not fall to the ground should the glass panel break.

As for Mr Fong, who has since had the shower cubicle replaced, this is scant comfort.

"With all the cases of tempered glass spontaneously shattering in toilets, I hope the authorities will take note and perhaps regulate this area more," he said.

Types of glass

Singapore Safety Glass business development manager Gary Lee explains the most common choices of glass available.


Also known as untreated glass or "regular glass", this comes straight from the producers. It breaks into large shards with sharp edges that can cut and also impale.


Glass is heated to about 650 deg C before it is gradually cooled.

This creates surface and edge compression, which makes the glass about twice as strong as untreated glass.

While the final product can withstand high heat and strong winds, it breaks into large shards, much like annealed glass.

The plus side of this is that if used in a window, the pieces would stay within the frame and not crumble into small pieces like tempered glass.


Heated to 650 deg C, it is blasted with cold air to cool it rapidly, which makes it about four to five times stronger than untreated glass.

Also known as safety glass, it shatters into tiny pieces when broken, ensuring there are no big pieces with sharp edges.

But it can shatter suddenly on its own from stress if not properly installed, or if there is presence of the impurity, nickel sulphide.


Made from layers of toughened glass and plastic bonded together, it helps the glass shards stay in place when broken so it does not break into large, sharp pieces.

There is a characteristic "spider web" cracking pattern when the impact is not enough to completely pierce the glass, usually seen when the front windshield of a car is smashed.

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Two elderly die after minibus collides with tow truck

They were on bus, going home from St Andrew's Community Hospital

Two elderly passengers who were in a minibus died yesterday morning (Oct 5) after it collided with a tow truck on the PIE near Tampines.

They were returning home after treatment at St Andrew’s Community Hospital when the accident occurred at 10.45am

A male minibus driver and  four passengers were rushed to Changi General Hospital.

An unidentified 78-year-old passenger and Madam Kalsum Bee, 86, died a few hours after they were sent to the hospital.

Madam Kalsum Bee died of a severe head injury, said her daughter-in-law, housewife Rugaiyah Samon, 55.

Her domestic helper, Ms Sri, 27, who was with her in the minibus, had bruises on her back, a swollen face and a cut on her head. 

Read the full report in our print edition on Oct 6. 

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Woman trapped in room as fire rages in maisonette

Woman so shaken at seeing neighbour's flat on fire, she forgets emergency numbers

SAFE: The woman who was trapped in the burning flat was rescued and taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.

She thought the burning smell came from the haze.

When she realised that the sky was quite clear, she peered downstairs to check if anyone was burning joss paper

It was only when she heard someone screaming “Please help! Please help! It’s burning!” that she realised her neighbour’s flat was on fire. 

“It was very scary. It looked like a scene from TV. The smoke was thick and black,” said a 45-year-old domestic helper who wanted to be known only as Madam Karen.

The fire happened on Oct 5in a maisonette on the fourth floor of Block 894, Tampines Street 81, at around 8.20am.

It was eventually extinguished using one water jet and two compressed air foam backpacks. An SCDF spokesman said a woman in her 20s was taken to Changi General Hospital for smoke inhalation. 

Read the full report in our print edition on Oct 6. 

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Family escapes fire, seconds before blast at Bukit Batok flat

Man falls asleep waiting for pan of oil to heat up

CHARRED: Mr Ali and his uncle tried to put out the fire in the kitchen but it just kept growing, forcing them to flee the flat yesterday.

He was hungry after his night shift and wanted to eat some fries.

After leaving a pan of oil to heat on the stove the man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ali, stepped out of the kitchen and went to the living room to rest.

The civil servant in his mid 20s dozed off and the next thing he knew, his stove was on fire.

After his attempts to put out the growing fire failed, Mr Ali and his family fled the Bukit Batok HDB flat.

Seconds later, they heard what sounded like a gas cylinder exploding.

The fire happened just before 11.20am yesterday at Block 350, Bukit Batok Street 32. 

Twenty-seven other residents living on the first to fourth floors of the block were also evacuated.

A man in his 20s was found with minor burn injuries but declined to be taken to hospital, said a spokesman for the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Read the full report in our print edition on Oct 6.

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Tags: fire, Bukit Batok, stove and oil