Elderly couple, son fatally electrocuted in ‘truly tragic accident’ due to poorly installed water heater: Coroner
The Housing and Development Board (HDB) only began installing water heater connections with double pole switches in the late 1980s.
The couple’s home was built in 1971, before water heaters existed, while the couple’s water heater was installed sometime after 2008.
Investigations by the Energy Market Authority revealed that, according to the installation instructions for the water heater, the couple’s water heater should have been connected to a two-pole switch with an island circuit.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
Homeowners should not use such a three-prong plug or 13-amp fuse on bathroom appliances such as water heaters. They should instead check their bathroom for water heater hookup points, State Coroner Nakoda said.
If there are no such items, homeowners should hire a licensed electrician to install a standalone circuit for the water heater.
Homeowners should also hire a qualified technician to connect the heater to a connection point.
Homeowners should also ensure that their home appliances are approved for use in Singapore and have the necessary safety marks. Devices with high power requirements should be installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
State coroner Nakhoda found in the case of the couple’s home that the water heater was powered from a circuit that was not protected by a residual current device (RCCB). Otherwise, the circuit breaker would have tripped and cut off the entire power supply to the apartment.
This was not necessary when building the apartment.
A GFCI was installed when the apartment was renovated in the early 2000’s but it only protected the circuitry in the utility room and would not have cut power to the water heater.
The coroner said that all electrical installations in a home should be protected by an RCD, but he did not comment specifically on the lack of protection in this case.
After the inquest hearing in March, HDB told TODAY that all new homes built after 1985 must be fitted with an RCCB.
It added that homeowners should also test this circuit breaker regularly to ensure it is in good working order. This can be done by pressing the test button monthly.
Homeowners can contact any HDB branch for advice and consider hiring a contractor for electrical work listed on HDB Infoweb, the statutory board said.
On Friday, relatives of the family – including the couple’s daughter and Ashikin’s wife – declined to comment when approached by reporters.
On that fateful evening in 2020, Ashikin’s daughter had called him and her mother after failing to reach her grandparents on the phone.
When Ashikin and the girl went into the apartment, they heard the sound of running water. Ashikin managed to pry the padlock securing the main metal gate and they burst in and found the couple in a toilet near the kitchen.
Omar was naked and lying face up while his wife Asmah was slumped with her head and chest pressed against the wall.
Ashikin’s daughter then saw her father make contact with her grandfather while shouting “Mak,” which is Malay for mother.
Ashikin then collapsed on top of his father. In a state of shock, the girl called her mother, who in turn contacted the Singapore Civil Defense Force.
State Coroner Nakhoda said Asmah went to the bathroom to check on her husband when he collapsed, understandably out of love for him. He suffered from several chronic illnesses and a few years earlier had undergone angioplasty to widen blocked or narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart.
There would have been no indication of an electrical problem as there was no power outage in the apartment. The coroner said she was electrocuted when she stepped barefoot on the wet bathroom floor.
When Ashikin walked over, he wouldn’t have given a thought to how his parents had collapsed, nor would he have seen the large burns on their skin, the coroner added.
State coroner Nakhoda concluded his findings by offering his condolences to their families for their loss.