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Focus on façade R&D as UAE's updated fire code protects buildings

Ramboll expert outlines how updated UAE Fire and Life Safety Code's NFPA 285 test requirement boosts façade performance

Façade safety is a key priority under the UAE's Fire & Life Safety Code [representational image].
© ITP / Shutterstock
Façade safety is a key priority under the UAE's Fire & Life Safety Code [representational image].

Buildings are having façades and cladding replaced in order to comply with the UAE's updated Fire and Life Safety Code. The regulation’s latest version came out in 2018 and has brought about “major changes”, Ramboll’s head of façade, Benjamin Beer, tells Construction Week.

There have been several serious fires at buildings in Dubai in recent years, and the updated safety policy is part of wider action to ensure façades are adequately fireproofed to prevent future accidents. Under the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code, rigorous façade testing is required, which involves “full-scale mock-up fire testing” against the NFPA 285 standard – and “it is not easy to get a façade system to pass the NFPA 285 test”, Beer says.

He continues: “We see this as a significant improvement when looking back at the various fire incidents in the Middle East, where combustible aluminium composite panels (ACP) with a polyethylene (PE) core were used.”

Combustible APC panels with a PE core were previously not tested under the NFPA 285 standard in the region, but their testing is mandatory under the updated UAE code.

“These panels were tested in smaller-scale sample testing, as per the ASTM E84, for their surface burning characteristics. However, they still caused most of the large façade fire incidents worldwide, including the one at Grenfell Tower in London,” Beer adds.

Benjamin Beer, Ramboll [supplied image].

Saudi Arabia is also taking steps to fireproof façade products as construction activity ramps up in the kingdom. On 24 February, UL and GCC Labs agreed to build a research centre in Dammam that will test the fire performance of façades.

The laboratory will be the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia and will provide training to customers from the Middle East and North Africa region. Vice president and general manager of UL Middle East, Hamid Syed, tells Construction Week that building work on the lab will begin later this year. 

He adds that he “cannot divulge cost details”, but confirms the centre will be built in Dammam’s Mudon industrial area, as part of GGC Labs’ larger testing complex, adding: “We plan to transfer the knowledge and expertise to the kingdom while being responsible to the environment, so we will include smoke abatement systems to ensure air quality is not impacted.

“UL and GCC Labs are keen to contribute to Vision 2030 and, as the emphasis on local content increases and research and development ramps up, testing and certification will become a key pillar of that ecosystem.”

Fire is undoubtedly a concern for not only the region’s façade consultants, but for the construction industry as a whole. It is not the only challenge, however, as Ramboll’s Beer points out. The Middle East’s building sector also needs to take a closer look at fabrication quality, particularly in installation on site, he says.

“We are involved in various third-party reviews and expert reports on façade failures. These include issues with façades leaking or not achieving the required air- and water-tightness, and also safety-related façade failures showing elements detaching from the systems or elements falling from a height,” he notes.

The market is becoming more competitive, Beer continues. “We have seen projects put on hold. We can counterbalance this by [taking on] both local and international group projects with a long-term focus.”

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Construction Week - Issue 741
May 11, 2019