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Can your business adapt to UAE's new fire code?

The UAE is expected to publish an updated fire and life safety code in 2017. Paul Madden outlines how local businesses could prepare for the revised code’s regulations

Paul Madden is senior project manager of fire and rescue services at Restrata.
Paul Madden is senior project manager of fire and rescue services at Restrata.

In recent years the UAE has been rocked by some highly publicised fire incidents, from the New Year’s Eve fire that broke out at The Address Hotel – Downtown Dubai, to the fires in Tamweel Tower and The Torch.

Each of these events had a huge impact on the physical assets and those working or living inside, with repair work taking years to complete and affecting business revenues of those involved.

The threat posed by fire incidents like these to real estate assets and the people living and working inside motivated Dubai’s government to assess how it regulates fire safety in the region; what measures could be taken to improve the way developers, construction businesses, and property owners attempt to prevent fires; and how they plan to respond to a crisis to minimise the impact should the worst-case scenario occur.

The new code is expected to set a minimum fire safety standard and designate the building owner as the ‘Responsible Person’. The Responsible Person, or the person acting on their behalf, will be required to carry out certain fire safety duties, which includes ensuring general fire precautions are satisfactory, conducting a fire risk assessment, and following up with relevant policy implementation and training where necessary.

Ultimately, the Dubai Civil Defence aims to hold someone accountable for future fire incidents, and with the pending release of the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code – due early in 2017 – we have already started working with existing and new clients that wish to pre-empt the actions and business changes required to comply with the new legislation.

Firstly, the Responsible Person should look to commission a fire risk assessment by a professional consultancy. This serves as a live document and will contain recommendations and actions for the team to follow. The assessment will highlight hazards; identify people at risk; and suggest ways to evaluate, remove or reduce the risk. The assessment will also include information relating to the review process, and when and why you need to review the assessment.

Obtaining the assessment, however, is not enough, and it is important to act upon the advice of the consultant, drawing up policies and procedures for the building or business, and ensuring staff are trained to follow specified procedures correctly.

Regular training around preventing fire and what to do in the event of a fire is fundamental, as are regular fire drills and practice evacuations. It is considered best practice to facilitate a practice evacuation for buildings once a year, at a minimum.

An experienced consultancy should be able to provide not only the fire risk assessment, but also work with the client to develop the correct plans and procedures to minimise the risk of a fire incident occurring and also the right training for staff.

Many business or real estate owners will inevitably attempt to ignore the new legislation, but it is important that they understand that doing nothing will not be an option – nor should it be. In the UK, ignorance proved to be no defence in a court of law when they introduced their Fire Safety Order in 2006, with those failing to comply facing fines and possible imprisonment. Companies like The Co-operative Group and New Look Retailers faced huge fines following incidents on their premises.

The provision of a fire risk assessment, a fire safety policy, and a comprehensive set of fire safety records will do much to convince the enforcing authorities that fire precautions are being maintained to a reasonable standard. More importantly, it will demonstrate that you care about the safety of your employees and anybody else that visits your premises.

The full extent of the UAE legislation’s changes and how these are enforced remains to be seen. However, these reforms are the first step on a road to safer cities and an opportunity to further educate those living and working in the region about the importance of assessing hazards and threats to people and property – and how to mitigate the risk.

After all, everyone must do their part to ensure the UAE becomes synonymous with safety.

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