Stronger enforcement of fire safety rules ‘will give residents more time to escape’
DUBAI // Tough building regulations designed to prevent fires in high-rise towers must be better enforced, experts say.
Following safety rules to the letter, insisting on proper installation of non-flammable and fire retardant materials, and periodic maintenance of buildings are crucial to preventing fires from spreading, speakers at the Middle East Facades Summit said on Sunday, adding that that would give residents more time to get to safety.
“The designs are put together well enough to prevent a fire, or to prevent the fire from getting into the facade,” said David O’Riley, managing partner of Britannia International, a fire engineering company.
“But the major problem in this part of the world is that those elements that are designed specifically to mitigate the fire are invariably left out or not actually installed properly.”
Engineers gave examples of how perimeter fire sealants were often not installed correctly along floors and behind columns. The non-flammable seals between floor slabs and the building facade help to prevent the flow of hot gases.
There has been a renewed focus on safety in Dubai after four major fires at towers in the emirate over the past four years.
The blazes were reportedly fuelled by combustible aluminium panelling.
The most recent blaze was at the 75-storey Sulafa Tower in Dubai Marina on July 20 this year. In Ajman, a blaze on March 28 destroyed dozens of flats in two 26-storey towers in the Ajman One development.
The speed of the flames that raced up the Address Downtown Dubai hotel on New Year’s Eve led to the addition of new chapters on contractors’ accountability in the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice. An updated version of the code is due for release before the end of the year.
Other incidents including a fire at the Marina Torch tower last year and the blaze that gutted Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers in 2012 prompted the authorities to clamp down on the use of the combustible plastic-filled aluminium composite panels on building facades.
Active safety mechanisms such as fire alarms and sprinklers along with passive elements built into the design of buildings buy time for occupants to escape, according to experts.
Apart from sealants, cables between apartments and corridors, water pipes and ducts must also be properly sealed with fire-stopping systems approved by the authorities.
Correct installation is therefore critical. “Just approving the system does not actually suffice, you have to have all the operatives trained by factory trainers so that they know how to install it, why they are installing it and what is important in that installation process,” said Mr O’Riley.
Awareness of a building’s fire safety strategy and periodic maintenance of safety mechanisms is essential, according to Andy Dean, head of facades for the Middle East at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, a global engineering and design firm.
“The first thing that every building should have is a fire safety strategy that shows us how the building works to prevent fires and how the building works to minimise human and property loss in the event of a fire,” he said.
“This has to be maintained because an occupier can often inadvertently break down that fire safety strategy by putting a door here or changing material there. So fire safety strategies must be reviewed to make sure all the elements are working.”
Proper implementation is also important for insulation coverage and thermal assessments.
“Missing sealants is something I have seen in inspections,” said William Whistler, managing director of Green Building Solutions International, a company that tests air quality in buildings and projects.
“You can have that whole sealant along the floor but behind that column, where no one can see, it’s not done, and it can be frustrating.”
Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM