Intensive inspections will help reduce tower fires, Dubai forum hears

: On the last day of the Windows, Doors and Facades Forum in Dubai on Tuesday, experts said fire audits and inspections could help to prevent the rapid spread of fire and save lives.

DUBAI // Intensive inspections are vital to ensure safety systems in buildings are up to scratch and that residents are abiding by rules that ban hazards such as barbecues and smoking.

On the last day of the Windows, Doors and Facades Forum in Dubai on Tuesday, experts said fire audits and inspections could help to prevent the rapid spread of fire and save lives.

While new regulations prevent the use of combustible, plastic-filled aluminium panels on facades, concerns persist about safety in older buildings.

Michel Francis, chief architect at DEC consultants, a building design and project management company, said inspections would cover the materials used.

“Traditional composite aluminium panels had some kind of resin that is not fire-safe, but the new ones come with fire-proof material that can withstand fire for a long time,” Mr Francis said.

“Although new regulations do not allow this old material to be used, you need vigorous inspection on site to make sure only safe material are used and not the old, traditional material.”

Under new provisions in the Fire and Life Safety code to be released this year, owners will be required to renew a no-objection certificate annually after inspections to ensure all modifications are fire-safe.

A new chapter also holds the main consultant responsible for the inspection for a year after it is done.

There have been no casualties in fire in high-rise structures in Dubai but Civil Defence teams have had to rescue people on four occasions over the past four years from fires fuelled by combustible aluminium facades.

These include the 75-storey Sulafa Tower in Dubai Marina on July 20 this year, the Address Downtown Dubai hotel blaze on New Year’s Eve, the Torch fire last year and the 2012 Tamweel Tower blaze.

Mr Francis said audits of ­operational, maintenance and repair plans were crucial because inspectors could check for gaps behind the facade that could fuel the fire.

For instance, rockwool insulation, made of mineral fibre or stone wool, is popular in the region for buildings with facades owing to its strong insulation and fire-resistant qualities.

However, Mr Francis pointed out that a fire would spread quickly if there were gaps in the insulation.

said: “An inspector must look for these holes, see how the rockwool is installed, the fixtures used, check for any intricate gaps between the intersection of slabs. An expert auditor would look to see if there any loopholes. These locations and intersections, if well treated, will prevent the jumping of fire from one floor to the other and the whole facade catching fire. Fire containment would be much easier.”Risk areas include balconies, car parks, external walkways, roofs, mechanical rooms and areas that adjoin the facade, said David O’ Riley, managing partner of Britannia International, a company that provides fire safety consultancy.

“We must try to mitigate the risk of fire, not just the spread or managing it once it starts, we want to stop it from starting,” he said.

“Are the safety systems fit for purpose, is the electrical wiring safe and are we able to bring in measures to control people’s activities are three fundamental areas. So a risk mitigation audit must look at potential sources of fire, concentrate on location, on electrical circuits and human activity.”

Factory managers also called for more training of people who instal systems.

“Apart from workshops for main contractors, people who install glass – windows and facades – should get training to know what the new specifications, regulations are. That way we also can be effective, it’s a question of lives,” said Mahmood K, manager of a glass and aluminium fabrication company.

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Published: September 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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