x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Survey finds emergency exits and fire extinguishers lacking

Most people do not have fire extinguishers in their homes and believe their workplaces do not have proper fire exits, a new survey has found

For years, officials have been saying that the culture of health and safety in the UAE could stand some improvement, and a new survey confirms that there is still a long way to go.

The poll, conducted for Al Aan TV's Nabd al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) programme, reveals, among other findings, that two-thirds (65 per cent) of the 751 residents interviewed said they did not have fire extinguishers in their homes.

"Fire extinguishers are important," said Dr Ali Damanhouri, an emergency doctor at Tawam hospital, said. "Other first aid items are important, but the knowledge and education are just as important."

While fire codes are in place for new buildings, many older structures were built to less stringent standards and may lack safety features such as extinguishers, sprinklers, fire doors and fire exits.

Danger can arise if residents and building managers are less than careful, letting rubbish build up in electricity junction rooms, stairwells and in front of fire doors.

In December 2009, two people died in a blaze in an overcrowded residential tower in Abu Dhabi's Tourist Club neighbourhood.

The subsequent investigation found that the fire exits were blocked.

The Civil Defence announced late last year that fire experts would inspect every home in the country; the decision came after a year, 2009, in which there were 42 house fires in Dubai, 89 in Abu Dhabi and 100 in Sharjah.

Workplaces are no safer. While 38 per cent of survey respondents said they believed safety regulations were well enforced in UAE workplaces, more (45 per cent) said enforcement was patchy.

According to Dr Damanhouri, workplace accidents are the second most common cause of emergency cases after road accidents.

And when an accident does happen at work, a proper response is far from guaranteed. Barely two-fifths (41 per cent) of workers said someone in their workplace was trained in basic first aid.

One person in nine (11 per cent) did not know where the fire exits were located at their office, and a worrying eight per cent said they thought there were no fire exits.

By law, all workplaces must have a fire exit, but Mohamed, an employee at Evertrust Fire & Safety, said many still do not have them. "They should have fire alarms too, by law," he said, "but many still don't."

There were concerns about public events as well. While more than half (55 per cent) of respondents were happy that there would be adequate medical provision in event of an emergency at festivals in the UAE, fewer (43 per cent) were as optimistic about music concerts, and only a quarter (25 per cent) thought there were adequate emergency facilities at weddings.

osalem@thenational.ae