x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Clarity on evolving building code

A new building code based on US standards is finally set to be implemented in Abu Dhabi two years after it was announced.

Authorities in Abu Dhabi are expected to introduce a new building code by June, as The National reported yesterday. The plan is welcome, but long overdue, not only because the code was announced more than two years ago.

In evolving cities, building codes naturally have to adapt. The slow pace of implementation in this case - the code has been ready for more than a year - has left builders guessing about appropriate standards. Once it is in place, it should set a new benchmark for building-safety standards; the lack of such requirements has allowed the spread of unsafe, cheaper materials in the market.

The new code will be based on US standards to replace a mishmash of existing codes from Europe, Australia and the United States. A few examples suffice: currently, it is possible for landlords to use galvanised sheet metal in air conditioners. In the United States, high-density fibre glass, which does not burn and is not toxic, is used. Practices such as storing potentially explosive materials on construction sites, for "convenience", will also be curbed when the code is introduced.

The enactment of the code will not end violations at once of course, and enforcement will be a challenge. It will be easier to enforce in new buildings, for which certificates of completion have to be issued, but many practices will be difficult to monitor. Safety at hotels' Ramadan tents, for example, were raised significantly after authorities launched inspection campaigns.

It is a moving target as well, as Abu Dhabi seeks to improve standards and urban areas. No sooner will this improved code be put in place than, undoubtedly, improvements will be suggested.

That process of evolving standards in growing cities makes it crucial that there is transparency and clear communication in the implementation. Safety is everyone's duty, not just the authorities'. Builders must use the right materials; owners must ensure buildings comply with proper standards. There is often a lack of knowledge about unsafe and flammable chemicals and even installation practices.

The process should start with introducing this long-awaited code, and improved communication will make enforcement much easier.