Spreading the word on new Dubai fire codes for cladding

Experts tell Big Project ME that greater communication and enforcement is needed from authorities, to ensure the new safety codes are followed

Speakers and attendees at this year’s Middle East Facades Summit all had a similar message when it came to the recent moves to improve fire safety in high-rise buildings in the region – namely that tougher building regulations must be enforced.

With a renewed focus on fire safety in Dubai following four major high-rise fires in four years, experts have called on the construction and real estate development industries to follow safety rules to the letter. The proper installation of non-flammable and fire retardant materials, and the regular maintenance of buildings, are crucial to preventing fires from spreading, speakers said at the event, which was held alongside the Windows, Doors and Facades Event 2016.

“The designs are put together well enough to prevent a fire, or to prevent the fire from getting into the façade,” explained David O’Riley, managing partner of Britannia International, a fire engineering company, during his presentation at the summit. “But the major problem in this part of the world is that those elements that are designed specifically to mitigate the fire are invariably left out or not actually installed properly.”

“Just approving the system does not actually suffice; you have to have all the operatives trained by factory trainers, so that they know how to install it, why they’re installing it and what is important in that installation process.”

Following the release of the new fire code by the UAE Civil Defence, the summit comes at an important time for the country’s purveyors of fire safety. With the authorities determined to crackdown on materials that don’t meet standards, manufacturers, contractors and consultants have all had to reassess how they go about installing and specifying projects.

In August, it was revealed that more than 270 building projects across Dubai had handover delays due to authorities not being satisfied with the ratings of cladding systems. With the new building codes currently in development and likely to be introduced next year, the Civil Defence has been far more stringent about making sure the existing codes are met.

“With the UAE Civil Defence, if you see the new code, there are four requirements and three standards that need to be met,” says Zohaib Rahman, division head of Alucopanel Middle East. “These are ASTM E84, which is to test your core material; EN 13501, which is the European standard; and then there’s ASTM 1929, where the minimum requirement to pass is an ignition temperature of 343°C.”

Speaking to Big Project ME at the event, Rahman and his associate Intisar Andra, the technical business development manager for Alucopanel Middle East, both assert that the biggest challenge facing the industry at the moment is a lack of clarity surrounding the new codes. While she is quick to acknowledge that the Civil Defence has been proactive in the introduction of the new fire code, Andra points out that there could be greater engagement with the industry.

“The biggest challenge is that the ideas are not clear. We’re really trying and depending on ourselves for the research and to find out what other people are doing – all over the world, not just in the UAE. In the UAE we’re the first to do this, so we can’t depend on the experience of people here. We’ve even checked with consultants and subcontractors, and nobody really has [anything to share]. So we’ve taken on the challenge to do the study and utilise our own experience.

“I’m an architect who’s worked for nearly 20 years in the subcontractor field, so I know what the problems are and how the industry is. When you get something approved or passed, but it’s not meeting your budget, what will you do? You don’t follow it,” she says, referring to the budget-conscious construction industry.

It’s this attitude that necessitates greater enforcement by the authorities, backing up the views of the experts at the summit. Rahman says he believes use of fire-rated and approved materials will become mandatory, given how serious the authorities are about it. However, he does point out that greater communication between all parties would go a long way towards reducing the reticence and confusion in the industry.

“You have to push the Civil Defence to publish their codes and regulations. After a fire incident, everyone reads the papers and the papers say that the fire code is still to come in, that it’s yet to be released. And to date, people are still waiting for the fire code to be released.

“As a manufacturer, because we’re hungry to be in compliance, we’ve visited the Civil Defence and they’ve given us the fire codes, but people are still expecting the Civil Defence to release it officially, either on their website or in the press.

“[So I think] the Civil Defence has to release it publically. Until now, it hasn’t been released on their website. But they’ll tell us, during meetings, that this is the official code, you just do what’s written here. You have to approach them to take the information, but otherwise, you won’t find it published anywhere, so that really makes things more difficult [than they need to be].”

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