Oversight the key to averting cladding fires

Fire is a major safety risk in tower buildings. Ravindranath K / The National
Fire is a major safety risk in tower buildings. Ravindranath K / The National

Following a series of major cladding fires in high-rise buildings, it is little surprise that a great deal of attention is being put into how to prevent further incidents. Despite widespread speculation that the kind of aluminium cladding commonly used on towers here seems inherently susceptible to blazes, the end result of this scrutiny has identified shoddy construction – and allegations of deficient oversight – as a significant factor.

As we reported yesterday, experts who addressed the Middle East Facades Summit in Dubai said building designs here generally followed industry standards for resisting fires so that those inside the towers will be able to get out safely. As David O’Riley, managing partner for fire-engineering company Britannia International, explained: “The major problem in this part of the world is that those elements that are designed specifically to mitigate the fire are invariably left out or not actually installed properly.”

The summit heard about examples where perimeter fire sealants – non-flammable barriers designed to prevent the flow of hot gases between floor slabs and the building facade – were often not installed correctly along floors and behind columns. However, the problems extend beyond this and include deficient maintenance of fire-mitigation systems such as sprinklers, which need to be sealed with non-flammable materials and inspected regularly if they are to work as they are designed.

The linking factor to all these circumstances is enforcement rather than shortcomings in the laws, although the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice is also in the process of being updated and enhanced. There will always be a temptation for builders and contractors to skimp on the design requirements if it makes their own job easier and cheaper. It is the role of the company supervisors and, ultimately, official building inspectors to ensure that tendency does not leave a dangerous legacy for those who live or work in the completed towers.

There are good reasons why we not only have fire-safety laws but also official oversight of construction to make sure they are implemented fully. The findings being discussed at the summit this week show that we need to redouble our efforts – including retrospectively assessing buildings – to ensure that what is built matches what the design and the law required, to make sure that living in towers doesn’t come at a risk to safety.

Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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