One region, one code?

The spectre of a GCC-wide building code is a step closer

Will minimum standards of HSE be part of the code?
Will minimum standards of HSE be part of the code?

News that representatives from the GCC states met in Muscat recently to discuss launching a unified building code for the region starting from 2015 is a development that will impact all firms working in the construction industry.

The GCC has previously had an unwanted reputation for developing projects with little or no planning enforcement, creating haphazard and unsafe urban landscapes.

Each member state currently has its own set of building codes – arguably some more robust than others – and firms doing business in them adjust to the requisite requirements. But now, a pilot scheme is to be launched before a unified code is rolled out over three years from next year.

“It will be excellent to have a uniform building code for GCC, and I’m sure that most professional people working in the construction industry will want to have the same. This will allow people to move freely among the GCC countries and use the same uniform codes,” said Dr Hany Soliman, head of engineering at CEG International.

“European counties did the same when they issued the Euro Codes which are applicable to all European countries with very minor special requirements to suit every market. I have worked in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and would be more than happy to see a uniform building code across the countries in the GCC.”

Vasanth Kumar, CEO of Arabian MEP Contracting, believes that the benefits of a GCC-wide building code are “phenomenal” and would help to ensure safer and higher standards across the industry, arguing that Qatar could comfortably integrate the code into its existing standards.

“Since Qatar’s existing construction standards are on higher side compared to some of the other GCC states, integration to unified GCC Code would be lot more easier for Qatar,” he states.

“In fact, I think Qatar would benefit the most by adopting unified code as existing high construction cost in Qatar will bottom-out and average to the wider cost of construction in the GCC. That’s due to the standardisation of products, high economics of scale of production for manufacturers and suppliers. It would also result in a level playing field amongst contractors and consultants as entire GCC region will be seen as one market.”

But there is also the argument that each of the GCC member states have their own existing codes that are more suited to their own specific construction markets. However, where there does seem to be some agreement is that a code that included standards relating to health and safety would be advantageous.

“I think building codes will vary between regions and countries but ostensibly a code about how you build or construct things is pretty much uniform no matter where you go. There are always statutory requirements in terms of permitting or bureaucracy, but you have to accept that different countries want things to work in different ways,” commented Grahame McCaig, general manager of Gulf Contracting Company.

“Irrespective of what code you look at or where it is, the underlying themes will be consistent. There will be differences in the way things operate or work, and that’s just something you have to accept. One rule doesn’t fit all, so as long as the underlying principles that should be across all areas are there – such as standards of HSE and how you treat workers – then that’s the most important thing.”

Peter Murphy, projects director at CEG International, commented: “The industry is huge and very diverse, so even those in the same sectors do not always use the same codes. In over 38 years in consultancy in the region, CEG has seen the diversity of codes as a constant tension of requirements, designs and practice. We’ve seen that not only between national and international codes but also where some of the major government and corporate clients have taken established codes and adapted them to their own particular needs and purposes.”

One of the major challenges would be implementing and enforcing such a code, especially in a region where bureaucracy and efficiency is often an issue.

“I would suggest to start with a committee for each industry from all GCC countries and each committee to decide which current code is more suitable to start with, then updating the code to be valid for all GCC countries – it seems something of this is already happening,” said Soliman.

McCaig states that any organisation charged with overseeing the standards and enforcing them must have legitimate powers, or risk being seen as a soft touch. “I’d like to see a uniform approach across all countries to implement minimum standards of health and safety and statutory bodies to make sure they are complied with, such as the HSE executive in the UK – it must have teeth.”

All GCC countries are, to a certain extent, trying to improve their green credentials and it will be interesting to see if any unilateral code sets out minimum standards.

Alexandre Amato, head of sustainability at Qatar Green Building Council, is hopeful that a standardised approach across the GCC would include requirements for energy conservation. “A GCC approach to energy conservation is a good idea, provided it doesn’t take too long,” he said.

“The key thing is the climate and they are similar. When you introduce legislation, it is no good without enforcement, and to build that capacity for enforcement could be different in each country. It will certainly take some time to come up with a unified approach, but we’d certainly like to see energy conservation legislation in place in the near future.”

Soliman believes that the similar climate in the GCC is a valid argument for the implementation of a region-wide code. “GCC countries have almost the same environment and similar resources. So a uniform building code would be an added value to utilise the different markets. Such a step will be very important to all GCC countries, and I hope it can be implemented in the near future as it would be very useful,” he stated.

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