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How the new UAE fire code will affect construction

The UAE’s updated fire code, due in March 2016, will redefine the local construction industry’s design and engineering operations.

Fire in the tower: The Address Hotel in Downtown Dubai caught fire on 31 December, 2015.
Fire in the tower: The Address Hotel in Downtown Dubai caught fire on 31 December, 2015.

Dubai Civil Defence officials confirmed earlier this month that the UAE’s upcoming fire codes will emphasise the role of building owners and consultants in improving and ensuring overall fire and life safety in the country. Speaking during Intersec 2016, Pramod Challa, chief of engineering at Dubai Civil Defence, said authorities are working to release the codes in March 2016.

UAE Fire and Life Safety Codes of Practice 2016 will be the second edition of the standards and regulations, which were launched in 2011 in a bid to improve fire safety.

Challa said these codes are being formed by incorporating the best international fire standards, such as NFPA and British Standards. The fast pace of construction in the country has necessitated an update to the UAE’s fire codes, he added.

Unlike the 2011 code’s schematic drawings, the 2016 code will feature 3D drawings to make them easier to understand, interesting, and appealing to users. These drawings also incorporate measurements and specifications for parts used in the construction of a structure.

While standards regulating cladding, fire stopping, and balconies and terraces were added as annexes to the 2011 code, the 2016 update includes regulations for each as part of the main code, Challa continued.

Furthermore, the 2016 code also increases the accountability of all stakeholders involved in a building’s development. These extend into various modules, such as responsibilities of developer, consultant, owner, tenant, as well as facility, school, and hospital management.

These measures are aimed at improving the overall quality of consultancy and construction services in the country, Lt. Col. Jamal Abdul Ibrahim, director of preventive safety at Dubai Civil Defence, remarked, while inaugurating the Middle East Fire 2016 conference in Dubai: “Dousing the massive fire [which] broke out in Address Downtown Hotel [highlighted] the importance of integration between Civil Defence and other supportive operations, such as planning, training, administrative, and technical works.

“We live in one of the best and safest countries in the world,” Lt. Col. Ibrahim told Construction Week, adding he is confident the UAE’s construction industry is capable of meeting the new requirements.

These details follow a Dubai Civil Defence announcement in January 2016, confirming a federal study would be carried out to assess the risk factor of existing buildings across the UAE.

Indeed, updated fire codes are the need of the hour, according to industry professionals.

Speaking to Construction Week, Easa F. Al Gurg, general manager of Easa Saleh Al Gurg’s Commercial and Industrial Group, remarked that while existing codes and standards in the UAE are sufficient to meet requirements, the spate of regional fires has necessitated that these standards are updated.

“Prevalent codes and standards are relevant to the current requirement of fire safety,” he said. “However, review and improvement of codes should be an ongoing process.

“The recent fires occurring in the region indicate that new standards will have to be developed to drastically reduce the probability of a major fire breaking out or spreading under various circumstances,” Al Gurg continued.

Al Gurg’s remit at the company includes Scientechnic, a fire systems firm whose project experience includes Gloria Hotel in Dubai and Park Hyatt in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Conversant with fire detection and suppression devices, Al Gurg says mandatory testing of key equipment and products could also improve fire safety in the region. Remarking on the scope for technology to enhance fire safety, he continued: “Automation in fire and life safety is already a fact and is being continuously upgraded.

“For instance, the fire detection system is completely addressable and can communicate directly with the central monitoring facility of the local Civil Defence authority [in the UAE]. This allows for faster responses from authorities in case of a fire incident.”

Fire detection and suppression devices are likely to be most effective when their design has been incorporated in the project’s earliest plans, and UAE authorities appear to have recognised this.

Under the updated UAE fire code, consultants will be responsible for the overall operations and lifecycle of a building, such as: acquiring the no objection certificate (NOC) from civil defence bodies; contractor qualification; selection of approved material; inspection during construction; and testing and commissioning works.

Dubai Civil Defence’s Challa said manufacturers will have to submit a legal undertaking with local civil defence authorities and municipalities stating selling non-listed materials is illegal and punishable.

“[The manufacturer] cannot sell anything that is not listed by the municipality and civil defence,” he continued, adding “a comprehensive list of approved materials” exists for manufacturers’ reference.

“Even if there is demand in the market, he cannot supply it. [This includes] not only cladding, but everything that goes into a building has to be listed. Anything that is not listed is going to be [considered] illegal.”

Rizwan Sajan, founder and chairman of Danube Group, pointed out the fire safety risks associated with faulty building materials.

“Fire propagates rapidly because of thermoplastic core material used in the manufacture of aluminum composite panels, which works as fuel in fire propagation [when combined with] oxygen at a certain height,” he told Construction Week.

“[Most] of the high-rise skyscrapers built before 2012 in the GCC are clad with non-fire retardant grade aluminum composite panels, due to no strict requirement by specifiers and authorities,” Sajan said, adding the situation has improved since the UAE Civil Defence took to updated codes and standards.

Historically, fire performance legislation across the UAE incorporated various global standards, until the country’s 2011 code took effect. Jason Hird, senior technical development manager at Gyproc, said this lack of cohesive standards and differing local requirements caused some confusion amongst specifiers and contractors, who would often specify products that may not be fire-safe, or even suitable for the stated installation.

“The various civil cefence organisations have more recently played an increasingly important role in setting regulations on a local basis, with a change occurring in 2013, when the Civil Defence General Directorate in Abu Dhabi began to standardise regulations across [the UAE],” Hird continued.

“Today, therefore, there is a general requirement for all building products and systems to be independently tested and certified by approved third-party bodies.”

Hird believes that supporting project teams play an instrumental role in determining a structure’s fire safety quotient.

“This is a very complicated area for specifiers and, in my experience, there is still a lot of confusion out there concerning both the standards required, and the systems needed to meet them,” he said.

“[Construction teams] do recognise the importance of getting it right the first time, as the [phased] Civil Defence approval procedure means problems may not be picked up until the building is virtually ready for handover, [when] correcting performance failures can be very expensive and time consuming.”

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