5 Minutes with Garald Todd, WSP | PB Middle East

"Fire and life safety is everyone's responsibility", Todd tells Construction Week

Garald Todd, head of fire and life safety and specialist services, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Middle East.
Garald Todd, head of fire and life safety and specialist services, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Middle East.

Construction Week talks to Garald Todd, head of fire and life safety and specialist services at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Middle East (WSP | PB ME), about fire safety standards in light of the recent accidents in Dubai. 

What are the latest updates that have been made to Dubai's fire codes?

Dubai Civil Defence last published a comprehensive fire code in 2011, titled the UAE Fire & Life Safety Code of Practice; this is undergoing a full and comprehensive update for next year. However the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) suite of codes still stand as the core and basis for this code, and should be considered the bedrock for buildings in the UAE.

Could you please outline the evolution of the UAE's fire codes?  

The UAE Fire & Life Safety Code of practice was introduced to provide a consistent, simplified point of reference for a broad variety of designers, engineers, and consultants.

Prior to this standardised approach being adopted, the variety of approaches being used from professionals from different parts of the world led to difficulties in consistency, particularly ensuring the various codes used were actually being applied and adhered to properly.

How do fire codes differ for high-rise towers in the UAE?

There is already a designation of high-rise in any building with a floor 23 metres or more above the lowest level of fire service access, which kicks in a number of protective features.

There are additional features required when the building hits the 90 metres mark in height.

High-rise buildings have and always will be a strong area of focus in building and fire codes. 

This focus can be seen in the lack of significant fatalities seen in high-rise building fires built to modern codes and standards.

Take the recent spate of high-rise fires in the region, where there were no fatalities despite some very dramatic imagery of whole building facades burning.

These make for dramatic photographs, and the business continuity and property loss associated with them are significant, but the cost in terms of human lives have been mitigated in large part due to the protective provisions required in high-rise buildings.

Broadly speaking, what is the rate of material compliance in the GCC? 

The notable areas for improvement needed in the region relate to materials, methodologies for installation, commissioning and maintenance. The codes are sound, and equal to or greater than what would be considered “international best practice”; the issue comes down to implementation of these codes.

An example is materials, we’ve seen instances of material that comes with a certification saying it performs or complies, but when tested, shares none of the characteristics that the material is supposed to have.

Equally for installation, the pace at which things need to move here means that diligence in the installation and commissioning of both passive and active fire safety features needs to be significant. 

How can construction professionals, such as contracting or facilities management teams, contribute to increase fire and life safety standards?

There are no statutory requirements for third party oversight of installation; instead the regulators require the installers to be certified accordingly, but our experience is that this isn’t sufficient in insuring these aspects are done correctly.

Currently, most developers leave this to the contractors on site, who have a whole host of moving parts to ensure projects meet on site safety requirements, project costs, and very tight programmes.

Once construction is done, the obligation to ensure fire and life safety in the building then moves to the operators, who need to be vigilant in ensuring their service providers are doing a competent job at testing and maintaining these systems, and that any alterations or repairs of the building meet the approved fire strategy and remain code-compliant.

How do you anticipate fire and life safety standards to evolve in Dubai and the wider region in the future?

There is always room for improvement, education, and awareness to increase life safety in the market.

While Dubai Civil Defence has done an absolutely fantastic job, given the massive growth, size, complexity and sheer number of buildings going up such a short period of time, they simply cannot do this alone.

At the end of the day, all of the above comes down to one simple fact – fire and life safety is everyone’s responsibility.


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