Tough new rules to curb fires in UAE buildings

Safety code orders sets specifications for cladding, with regular inspections and fines when the rules are broken.

The spread of the New Year’s Eve blaze in 2015 at The Address Downtown Dubai hotel was blamed on cladding. EPA
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DUBAI // Tough new fire safety regulations came into force nationwide on Sunday after a series of spectacular blazes in high-rise towers in Dubai.

The new code targets the exterior cladding that has been blamed for the spread of many fires, and aims to reduce its flammability.

“There is a requirement to minimise it to zero,” said Lt Taher Al Taher of Dubai Civil Defence

“Older buildings will have to meet the new code when it is time for their maintenance.

“We are confident that we’re going to have the safest cladding in the world. We have raised the standards for the supplement materials, and even the responsibilities of the consultants.”

The amended UAE Fire Safety and Life Protection Code specifies procedures for the installation of cladding and contains detailed guidelines and responsibilities for consultants, contractors and manufacturers.

For the first time, those who break the rules face prosecution and fines of up to Dh50,000.

A key new requirement is that builders will have to carry out regular maintenance on cladding panels and replace them after a certain date. “There is a timeline for all cladding and there is maintenance for everything. By that time they’ll have to change it,” Lt Al Taher said.

Under the new rules, buildings that catch fire must have all old cladding panels removed, and not just those damaged by the blaze.

“Most of the most recent fire incidents show that the fire is happening on the outside of the building, which is why we have included new specifications,” said Maj Gen Rashid Al Matroushi, director general of Dubai Civil Defence.

“We will have a meeting next week with Dubai Municipality, with whom we’ve formed a working group that will disseminate the details of the new specifications and ensure their implementation.

“We have also agreed with the municipality to summon designers, developers and consultants to brief them on the new specifications and how to use them in the buildings.”

The code was continuously amended after fire incidents, he said. “If we note something of significance, we study and analyse it.”

The new code was announced at Intersec, a trade fair in Dubai for security, safety and fire protection.

Sajid Raza, a member of the UAE Fire Code Council, told a forum at Intersec that the UAE’s rate of fire casualties was “much lower than many advanced countries”, at 0.23 for every 10,000 people.

Lt Al Taher said the low number was due to awareness campaigns and regular fire drills at schools, hotels and residential buildings.

Electrical short circuits have been behind most of Dubai’s fires, Gen Al Matroushi said, and the emirate was looking into introducing nanotechnology that could put out a fire instantly.

“To avoid using large fire extinguishers, a nanotechnology piece that is 2 centimetres by 2cm can be used to fight the cause of the fire,” he said.

These micro-extinguishers reportedly release fire extinguishing gas as soon as the temperature reaches a certain level.

Dubai hopes to start production of such devices by March this year.

There has been increasing pressure for action following five major tower fires in as many years, fuelled by aluminium cladding with a combustible thermoplastic core – particularly after flames quickly spread in the Address Downtown Dubai hotel in 2015 as millions watched the New Year’s Eve festivities.

In July last year, a fire gutted the 75-storey Sulafa tower in Dubai Marina, with the flames spreading up quickly at least 15 floors of the building.

In November 2015, a fire engulfed three residential blocks in central Dubai and led to services on a metro line being suspended, although no one was hurt.

In February 2015, a blaze gutted one of the emirate’s tallest buildings, also in the Dubai Marina area. It destroyed luxury flats in the Torch tower and prompted authorities to evacuate nearby blocks.

In 2012, a huge blaze gutted the 34-storey Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. It was later blamed on a cigarette end thrown into a bin.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse