Expert insight: Implementing the Saudi Building Code

Cristina Perez Domper, regional operations manager, Building Products Testing and Certification, Intertek MEA says the Kingdom must learn from the lessons of the past

Since its initial publication in June of 2018, the implementation of the Saudi Building Code (SBC) and its enforcement has been a tremendous undertaking for the authorities as well as all other stakeholders.

The document is based on the International Building Code, which has been adopted throughout the globe, but most significantly in the United States, since its first edition in 1997. Since then, its acceptance, implementation, and enforcement have gone through many variations and updates to find the most efficient and effective way possible. In the Kingdom, we should take advantage of this and learn from the issues faced in the past and implement any solutions and systems that have proved to work.

From a fire safety point of view, which is mostly addressed in SBC 201 (Code requirements-General ) and SBC 801 (Saudi Fire Code), there are several points to keep in mind that a comprehensive approach is needed to include every step from design, to procurement, construction and installation, commissioning, and maintenance, and proper qualifications of the professionals carrying out and overseeing each of these tasks are paramount to achieve the safety requirements of any building.

When it comes to passive fire protection systems, which are those that do not need to be activated in case of fire, but rather they assist in controlling or limiting the spread of fire by their intrinsic characteristics – think of a fire door stopping the fire from spreading from one room to the other, or a cladding system that has been shown to not cause the fire to spread to any of the adjacent floors or rooms through the exterior – their role in the overall fire safety needs to be addressed in each of these steps:

Design: Proper understanding and adoption of the minimum requirements of the SBC, as well as the overall performance needed for each system and product, is paramount for any successful fire strategy.

Procurement: Any products, materials, and systems used must be compliant with the requirements of the SBC. This includes testing and certification of products or systems involved in the construction project, regarding their fire performance. The requirements will vary depending on the type of construction, but all should be under third-party surveillance to ensure consistent production and tested according to the right methods. This is ensured by requiring that all submittals include the appropriate supporting documentation to show compliance to the requirements of the code, usually via approved Certification body issuance of Certificates of Compliance (CoC). Code Compliance reports have also been developed in the US to summarise and simplify the approval process for the suitability of a product or systems for a specific project.

These documents have been used globally for many years, and have proven to provide a significant level of assurance for all stakeholders.

Construction and installation: It is a well-known fact that even if you use the best quality products and systems on the market if they are not installed properly, their performance in case of fire can be severely compromised. Due to this, through the decades different international and industry standards have been developed to address this. Professionals performing these tasks should know the applicable standards, and whenever possible, provide qualification evidence to support their knowledge and experience.

Commissioning: It is always advised, and sometimes required by the code, that to confirm proper installation of passive fire safety-related products, an inspection by a qualified professional is carried out. Such an example would be inspections following NFPA 80 for fire doors, or ASTM E2174 for installed fire stops. There are already specialised companies in the region offering these services, but the enforcement of these vital tasks, especially at the level needed to ensure the safety of occupants is still a challenge that as an industry we need to overcome.

Maintenance: In the region, maintenance always seems like an afterthought and even an inconvenience, when in reality, lack of a proper maintenance schedule can cause that all the efforts made in ensuring the previous tasks were done properly can become obsolete if proper maintenance is not consistently implemented. No one plans for a fire to break out, but when it does, we need to ensure all systems are working at their best.

When it comes to fire safety, there is pride in providing a good solution to a problem without having to over-engineer the answers, but everyone involved in the chain of tasks required to achieve this needs to be aware of the importance of all the above steps being implemented thoroughly and properly to deliver a safe building to its owners and final occupants.

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