x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Time to review use of flammable siding

Greater awareness is need about dangerous building materials, along with incentives for it to be removed.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a blaze erupted in Tamweel Tower in Dubai, leaving hundreds of residents homeless. The good news is that the fire left no casualties, only uprooted lives and damaged property. The bad new is that this fire was made worse because of material long known to be dangerous.

As The National reported yesterday, fire safety experts say the Tamweel blaze was fuelled by flammable aluminium panelling on the building's exterior. This issue has been raised before and authorities have taken steps to phase out the product's use by introducing safety and building codes that comply with world standards. But the panelling persists; an estimate 70 per cent of buildings in the UAE have facades made with some form of aluminium sandwiching a combustible thermoplastic core.

Inspectors have worked hard to ensure that new buildings are not fitted with this potentially dangerous product, but structures pre-dating a federal ban are under no obligation to replace it. Indeed, while safer material exists, developers often fail to retrofit because of cost and time.

It is time to consider ways to create incentives for building owners to replace this flammable panelling. At the very least, local and federal authorities should order owners to disclose to all their tenants what types of material are on the outside of their structure. And renters and homeowners should be reminded, even required, to take out insurance.

In recent years, fire safety rules and building codes have been tightened; developers must obtain safety certifications for all materials before they can be used on any building, even if the building is located in a free zone. A unified federal safety code has helped reduce the use of this and other unsafe materials in this country.

Yet greater awareness of the dangers of these materials is sorely needed. Tenants who live in old buildings need to be aware of such hazards before signing leases. Disclosure may eventually force prospective tenants elsewhere and, in turn, push owners to retrofit.

Fire safety must become a common concern. Inspections and enforcement of rules will continue. But until everyone takes ownership of the danger fire presents, high-rise blazes, like the one that lit up Dubai this week, will continue to ignite.