BIG 5: Fire standards need to be stricter

Experts say contractors should be held to higher material standards

Fire such as that in a high-rise in Sharjah last month have highlighted safety concerns (Image: Snaps India/Mohammed Shamsuddin)
Fire such as that in a high-rise in Sharjah last month have highlighted safety concerns (Image: Snaps India/Mohammed Shamsuddin)

A spate of fires across the UAE has led experts to issue warnings about the importance of selecting the right construction materials to ensure safety.

October saw several fires in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, primarily affecting densely populated labour accommodation.

A labour camp operated by Proscape in Dubai was damaged by fire as a result of poor wiring, while Al Reem Island in Abu Dhabi saw two fires, one at the top of an under-construction hi-rise and another in a labour camp that was mostly empty at the time of the blaze.

Meanwhile, Sharjah suffered two dramatic fires, one which destroyed a series of warehouses, while another took hold at the top of another under-construction hi-rise.

According to figures from the Emirates Medical Association, 40 people were killed in 2,460 fires in the UAE during 2007, while in 2008, Dubai saw an 18% increase in fires during 2008.

Experts said fire regulations in the region were improving all the time but there was still work to be done.

“For new construction, still too many use materials are not sufficient fire safe. The regulations are getting better and better but still they are not strict enough. Mostly regulations avoid going as far as prohibiting or recommending materials,” said Foamglas general manger Marco Thomas Vincenz.

Experts recommended contractors go above and beyond the basic requirements of building codes and should ask for better rated products.

“Go for safer materials with lower failure risk and saver equipment. Train and regulate on the specification level of a building. Ask for a higher passive fire protection, not just for the active protection,” said Vincenz.

Higher-specification materials could provide those inside combusting construction with a few extra minutes to escape were essential for preserving life.

"Many of not only the tallest but the most complex projects in the world are under construction in the Middle East and the extra time our products provide to evacuate buildings in a fire emergency can mean the difference between life and death," said Rockwool Technical Insulation export director Peter Vinken.

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