Independent inspections key to preventing tower fires in UAE, say experts
DUBAI // Oversight by independent agencies certified by Civil Defence will be vital to enforcing rules and guidelines aimed at keeping residents of towers safe from fires.
Experts have said that unbiased supervision and inspection of fire protection systems by a third party will guard against poor installation and flag up safety violations. This would be key to enforcement once the updated version of the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code rolls out later this year.
“Independent oversight provided by a third party under contract to the government might force a lot of people involved in the loop to be a little more circumspect,” said David O’ Riley, managing partner of Britannia International, a company that provides fire safety advisory services.
“Once a building is the owner’s responsibility, and if the building owner happens to be a developer, then they are not doing themselves any favours if there is an accident and it’s proven that the fire safety provisions in the building are not good enough. Ultimately independent oversight is probably the only thing that will change things.”
Tough implementation of basic fire safety requirements would ensure that contractors and developers do not cut corners due to pricing pressures, experts said.
Inspections of towers in the Emirates, often to guard against fire, have found shoddy work with critical non-flammable seals between floors and columns such as perimeter fire sealants not installed correctly, exposed electrical wiring and cables, ducts, pipes that penetrate between apartments and corridors not sealed with approved fire stopping systems.
“A third party specialist or inspection agency is an international protocol to ensure that the others comply with all the requirements,” said Sajid Raza, a member of the Fire Code Council and vice president of Butler Engineering consultancy.
“The third party is the solution to have code compliance, it will enable enforcement and oversight. This will be in addition to the Civil Defence as the main authority having jurisdiction.”
Currently, apart from the consultant, contractors also seek to approach authorities to submit documents and explain projects. The updated code is expected to specify that the final responsibility lies with the lead consultant who is the only agency authorised to approach Civil Defence to submit the draft papers and gain the final approval.
The lead consultant will be responsible for the project for a year before it is handed over to the building owners who will then require an annual no-objection certificate from Civil Defence to approve maintenance of safety systems and any modifications carried out.
The updated code will also contain a key provision that the main consultant, manufacturer, main supplier or installer of fire safety material, plus an inspection agency must jointly sign off on completion before final approval from Civil Defence authorities.
An important section will cover the ‘house of expertise,’ a reference to the inclusion of a third party inspection agency, apart from the lead consultants and architects who must be registered by the Civil Defence.
“Like we have third party for scaffolding or any other safety system, a certified third party for fire safety is the most important safety requirement we need,” said Michel Francis, chief architect at DEC consultants, a building design and project management company.
“To be designated as a house of expertise, companies will need to pass certain criteria. You must be certified and not everyone can do it. They will be experienced and knowledgeable people so this will be logical and feasible oversight.”
Safety concerns have spiked in recent years due to the swiftness with which four fires spread in towers in the emirate reportedly fuelled by combustible aluminium panelling.
Incidents over the past four years include fires in the Sulafa Tower in Dubai Marina on July 20, the Address Downtown Dubai hotel on New Year’s Eve, the Torch last year and Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers in 2012.
Published: September 23, 2016 04:00 AM