As economic conditions tighten across the world and the Middle East, safety cannot be sacrificed to lower the cost of projects, fire experts have said at a major conference in Dubai.
Fire safety must be carried through from the design pages through to construction and maintenance without changing façade specifications or cutting corners on materials chosen, industry heads said on the first day of the Middle East Facades Summit in Dubai on Monday.
Fire safety engineers must be involved from the design stage, said Peter Stephenson, associate director fire engineering BuroHappold, an integrated engineering consultancy.
“The fire safety engineer can quite often be forgotten until an issue actually arises. They often don’t get introduced unless approvals are needed or if there is an issue on site. Irrespective of what a (fire safety) code says or not there should be fire engineer on a project. The intent now is to have a fire professional on board because it’s important to understand what the developer wants to achieve from the start.”
Experts said that the updated UAE Fire and Life Safety Code clearly states the requirement for a fire safety engineer. In earlier years the stage at which fire safety aspects were included varied between projects and contracts.
Safety has been in focus in the UAE from the Tamweel Tower fire in 2012, to the Address Downtown Dubai hotel blaze on New Year’s eve 2015 that hit international headlines, to Torch skyscraper catching fire twice in 2015 and recently this year, and the Grenfell Tower fire in London in which at least 80 people died.
“Fire safety is coming into prominence after the high profile fires around the world with fire risk assessment and fire safety engineering becoming much more of an important factor. So from design through to construction, building occupancy and ongoing maintenance management, it is important to have a fire safety professional involved in the process,” Mr Stephenson said.
It was crucial to continue working with safety experts during tough economic conditions to ensure high standards were maintained with smaller budgets, he said.
“One thing you always see happen when cash flow becomes tight is that budgets need to be realigned, so some projects may go on hold for awhile and some may get cancelled. But if you’re well into construction that is where the risk becomes high because how do you make your saving?” he said, adding that in some cases the height of buildings may be reduced.
“Quality surveyors can work with cost consultants to maintain safety for a lower price, but with no compromise on safety.”
Knowledge of how fires started is also vital for instance, police said a discarded cigarette started the Tamweel Tower fire five years ago. The need to control the sources of ignition and the proximity to combustible items was essential.
“Generally cigarettes cause a problem if they are insulated because if it rolls under a box, is dropped in a bin, wrapped in material, the heat will build up. If it is surrounded by combustibles and the heat is contained, then it will develop into a fire,” he said.
Banning smoking in a building except in specified areas, prohibiting people from throwing cigarette butts from their balconies should be implemented.
In most tower blazes where the fire spread has been rapid, aluminium cladding with a highly flammable thermo-plastic core has been blamed for the speed at which the flames jumped to higher levels.
This non-fire rated aluminium cladding is banned in new buildings in the UAE.
Agnes Koltay, director of Koltay facades urged clients to pay attention to the advice of experts.
“I would say listen to façade engineers. Consider their advice and listen to what is suggested because if facades are tested the right way and applied in the correct way, then composite panels on the outside will not create a problem,” she said.
“There needs to be more awareness of the different materials and the correct use of these materials. It should not be driven by the pure consideration of the pricing but consideration of what value you get for that price and if it is optimal.”