Dubai's grand designs present unique challenges for fire safety experts

Inspectors struggling to keep pace with latest construction technologies and materials used in developments

The Torch - one of the tallest residential towers in the world - went up in flames for a second time on August 4.
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Changing technologies and new construction materials used in the latest grand designs are putting pressure on regulators to ensure buildings comply with new safety standards.

Global experts on fire safety and building codes have been discussing implementing and enforcing the latest building codes at a conference in Dubai.

Strict new guidelines on the use of fire resistant cladding is a major aspect of a new building code introduced this year, and part of pro-active solutions to improve safety in UAE skyscrapers.

Adrian Brown, fire service adviser at Dubai Civil Defence, said safety reviews are ongoing and will be regularly reviewed when incidents arise.

“Technology and construction is moving at a faster rate, so guidance maybe slightly behind the curve,” he said.

“It is ongoing work as to the performance of buildings in fire and building products and systems will always be reviewed for performance after each fire.

“This is often the nature of fire investigation. The majority of fire safety codes in place around the world have evolved in this way.

“All we can do retrospectively is look at how building fires have developed and escalated to try and stop that happening again in future.

“There is a moral and legal obligation for fire safety, and this is relevant to both private and public sectors and not just the civil defence.”


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The federal fire code has been driven by the UAE Civil Defence with considerable input from Civil Defence in Dubai following recent fires at The Torch in Dubai Marina and The Address Hotel in Downtown in 2016.

The Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA), the regulatory arm of the Dubai Land Department (DLD), has already replaced some building facades that do not comply with fire resistance safety requirements.

Sanctions against building owners who do not comply with new regulations in fire safety is not always an easy process, according to Chuck Ramani, president of International Accreditation Service (IAS) who was speaking at the conference.

“Imposing new codes retroactively on existing buildings is dangerous territory,” he said.

“We cannot condemn existing structures if there has been a law change. The international property maintenance code is a good to adopt as it takes care of ongoing safety standards in existing buildings.”

Mr Ramani that, the city first identified those buildings and identified a certain date in the future, around five years, to address those safety issues.

Robert James, global building and security inspection director at Underwriters Laboratories, said the biggest safety challenge in global construction was ensuring buildings are tested and inspected properly.

“Outside curtain walls in buildings are critical, acting as a barrier to stop fires from spreading to areas people need to access in an evacuation,” he said.

“They can stop fire from spreading to the floor above, but there needs to be controls in place as part of a fire code to ensure the construction has been done correctly to make it effective.

“There is a lot of choice of materials now for architects to work with, there are many types of buildings in Dubai for example and we need to make sure they are being installed properly and tested correctly in the field.”