The well-publicised increase in the frequency and severity of high-rise building fires in the Middle East in recent years has thrust the region under the global spotlight in relation to fire safety and standards. Earlier this year, a new Fire Life and Safety Code was introduced by the Dubai Civil Defence to instil higher standards of fire safety at all stages of construction.

Key stages

It appears that developments in Dubai are being mirrored in other jurisdictions in the Middle East, most notably in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who have given notice to all building owners in the Kingdom to replace combustible cladding within one year.

Whilst the formal announcement is yet to be released, instructions from Civil Defence and Minister of Municipal Affairs have shed some light on what this will entail for the construction industry, and those associated with it. The process for replacement is in three stages:

  1. The owners of existing and licensed buildings with combustible cladding will need to sign an undertaking to replace it upon renewal of their trade licence, and to take all other precautionary measures within one year. In addition, they must comply with all regulations and instructions concerning cladding in the future.
  2. Owners of buildings under construction (but close to completion), will need to sign the same undertaking (as set out in no. 1 above) when applying for their trade licence and to comply with all regulations and instructions concerning such cladding in the future.
  3. Owners of buildings under construction will have to stop using such cladding and their trade licence cannot be obtained until they have submitted a certificate which confirms that the materials used are fire retardant according to the regulations relating to construction material issued by the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organisation.

In addition, the Minister of Municipal Affairs has issued another recent circular which prohibits the use of non-fire retardant materials.

Impact on building owners

The Civil Defence will issue further guidance on the exact scope and practical application of these new requirements in due course, which will undoubtedly have a significant financial and practical impact on owners of buildings in the Kingdom. Suffice to say, non-compliance with such requirements is likely to become a barrier to obtaining or renewing a Civil Defence Certificate in relation to new or existing buildings. Property insurers, therefore, would be well advised to ensure that all risk assessments carried out align with Civil Defence's recent decision on cladding.

Property and fire insurance

Interestingly, the recent Civil Defence requirements also align with a recent circular from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) and their instructions regarding property and fire insurance. The instructions not only deal with risk assessment and underwriting practice, but also emphasise the requirements that must be met before placing cover, for example the need for insurers to obtain a valid Civil Defence licence. In cases where a Civil Defence licence has not been provided, then the policy should contain a warranty requiring the policyholder to obtain one within three months, failing which cover will be suspended until the provision of such licence.

As with the updated Dubai Fire Life and Safety Code, it remains to be seen how the Civil Defence and other governmental bodies cope with the challenges of enforcement, and what practical issues the construction industry will face as a consequence. We will prepare a more detailed update when further information is available from the Civil Defence.