x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

New UAE fire safety code will prosecute manufacturers selling unapproved materials

Building owners will have to annually renew no-objection certificates (NOC) from civil defence to ensure structures remain fire safe.

DUBAI // Manufacturers who sell building materials not approved by civil defence and municipalities will for the first time face prosecution once a new fire safety code is issued.

A database of buildings will be created by April, listing at-risk structures as part of a large-scale federal exercise following civil defence inspections. It will also be based on reports from developers and rechecked by teams comprising municipality and civil defence officials.

Building owners will have to annually renew no-objection certificates (NOC) from civil defence to ensure structures remain fire safe. This contrasts with the current one-time completion certificate issued after construction and will ensure all subsequent alterations are cleared.

Enforcement of these new regulations is key to the updated fire and safety code that civil defence officials outlined before safety experts on the second day of the Intersec Middle East fire conference on Monday.

“Safety is No 1, so from manufacturers we will not accept material not on our list. It will be an offence and illegal if found,” said Lt Col Jamal Ahmed Ibrahim, director of the Dubai Civil Defence preventive safety department.

“Our code had 19 chapters, now we are reaching 26 chapters. An important part is for owners to come for yearly NOC renewal for fire and life safety. This is for all of the UAE because we will have one standard.

“Our inspectors have a list of 183 fines – if they find buildings not complying with safety, now it will be part of the code. Where there is a gap, we are closing it.”

Current rules prevent manufacturers from selling material banned by authorities, but this is not legally enforceable. Until laws are formally passed, manufacturers must sign a legal undertaking.

Pramod Challa, chief of engineering at Dubai Civil Defence, said they were now addressing fire safety in buildings as seriously as they were narcotics.

“What this means is even if there is a demand in the market because some material is cheap, a manufacturer cannot supply this. It will not be sold here. This is not just cladding, but everything that goes into a building.”

Independent inspection companies asked for guidelines on what should be reported to authorities in the new annual checks, after which owners would receive an NOC.

“What we need is a clear framework,” said Shamim Rashid-Sumar, director of business development at Aon Fire Protection Engineering.

“This will help understand what to report to civil defence and make it easier to gauge whether the inspection is an accurate picture of the building or whether an owner is just getting a rubber stamp.”

Lt Col Ibrahim assured experts that the code would incorporate a checklist.

The code updates are procedures already accepted worldwide.

“This is used globally. Manufacturers need to demonstrate to the authority that their products meet standards mentioned in a fire code,” said Drew Azzara, Middle East executive director for the National Fire Protection Association, a global non-profit organisation that creates codes for adoption by local governments.

“The major takeaway is an understanding that the private and government sectors need to work together because the collection of all that expertise adds value to the code and as a result we are safer, whether you are an Emirati or an expat.”

Apart from holding consultants accountable for the entire project, a new chapter on responsibility of stakeholders will list obligations of developers for infrastructure provisions, fix responsibility for balcony deaths and fires as a result of barbecues and shishas on tenants, and outline the duties of facilities management companies, schools and hospitals regarding fire safety.

rtalwar@thenational.ae