New fire code addresses key safety issue

Tough regulations specify standards for the fitting and replacement of flammable cladding

The fire at The Address Downtown in Dubai on New Year's Eve 2015.  Karim Sahib / AFP
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The national fire regulations that came into effect this week are very welcome. As The ­National has reported, they specifically address the exterior cladding that was recognised as a factor in the spread of several high-rise fires, including the blaze at the Address Downtown Hotel in Dubai on New Year's Eve in 2015. In the past year, the authorities have taken expert advice, locally and internationally, and have developed a comprehensive code that addresses important safety concerns.

For the first time, the regulations set down penalties for non-compliance, with fines ranging from Dh500 to Dh50,000, and provision has been made for inspectors to enforce the code. This is an important deterrent to those who might be tempted to cut corners. The regulations lay down new procedures for the installation of cladding, with the pledge that any panels used in new buildings will meet high safety standards. They specify that the owners of any building that catches fire will be required to replace all exterior cladding, not just those panels affected by the fire. Dubai Civil Defence officials have also said that research is being conducted into existing buildings and there will be a maintenance and retrofitting timeline for them all.

The issue of retrofitting is an important one. We hope and expect that this programme will be quickly implemented across the whole country and that it will enjoy the full support of everyone involved, from the authorities to the building owners and their insurers.

Of course, the ideal situation is for there to be no fires in the first place. Safety is everybody’s responsibility. The experts have already identified electrical short circuits as the cause of many fires, and are looking at technology that can tackle these at source. But safety requires a basket of measures, from strict compliance to the code by those who design and construct our buildings, to ongoing vigilance by building owners and tenants, to regular inspections by the authorities, and to fast and professional response by civil defence teams when fire is detected.

The UAE has a much lower fire fatality rate than most countries in this region, but there is more to be done to ensure that all our buildings are as safe as possible and we all know what to do if and when disaster strikes.