Sharjah to remove fire-hazard cladding from high-risk buildings in Dh100m plan

Major safety drive to begin this week will target 203 buildings in the emirate

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Sharjah will begin to remove fire-hazard cladding from 40 high-risk buildings this week at a cost of Dh100m in the first stage of a major safety drive.

Authorities have identified 203 residential towers and commercial buildings, both privately and government owned, where flammable cladding is to be replaced under the wider scheme.

Existing cladding will be replaced with fire-resistant materials to reduce the risk of blazes spreading quickly and provide potentially life-saving additional time for emergency services to respond.

The campaign is being launched under the directives of Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah.

The project is expected to be completed within six months, with the Sharjah government covering the cost.

Improvement work will be carried out on the remaining 163 buildings once the initial high-priority phase of the project has been completed.

“The safety of our residents is our top priority and we have been working diligently to identify and replace any flammable cladding in the emirate's buildings,” said Khalifa Al Suwaidi, director of the engineering and building sector at Sharjah Municipality, during a local radio broadcast on Monday.

“We have held several meetings with contractors and have struck a deal with one who will begin work immediately this week on the 40 high-risk towers.”

Latest bid to boost safety

Aluminium composite-panel cladding was prohibited in the Emirates under the country's Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice, which was introduced in January 2017.

Further updates came into effect the following year.

New buildings must be fitted with advanced non-combustible cladding that is able to stop the spread of flames and is more durable under intense heat.

It is not mandatory for buildings built before the new legislation was introduced.

A high-rise Sharjah tower that was gutted in May 2020 was covered with cladding that is banned on newer buildings.

Abbco Tower was built in 2005 with an external material that was widely used in the Emirates until it was prohibited in 2017.

“The fire spread faster because of the cladding,” Col Sami Al Naqbi, head of Sharjah Civil Defence, said at the time.

“Since the building is somewhat old, it was installed with the cladding before it was banned.”

Speaking at a fire safety conference in Dubai in January, specialists said there was a big demand on new building projects for solid aluminium panels, due to their durability and aesthetics.

Latest fire-resistant materials are about 40 per cent more expensive than those previously used, leading to some building owners to seek other cheaper safety measures instead.

Dubai Civil Defence chiefs said during the Intersec Conference they were facing challenges in convincing high-rise building owners to do away with hazardous facade cladding.

“The compliance of existing building facades is a challenge,” said Salma Humaid Saeed, head of drawing and projects at Dubai Civil Defence.

“They are legally acceptable but if there is an accident in the building or if the building owner wants to comply with the new regulations, then fire and safety companies need to help them renovate with the right kind of facade,” said Ms Saeed, whose role involves assessing the fire safety of building design blueprints.

“It is the owner’s responsibility to decide if they are willing to change it."

Updated: April 25, 2023, 11:22 AM