The recent fire at Grenfell Tower in London acts as a stark reminder for our developer and contractor clients of the dangers of disregarding fire regulations.
It is now presumed that at least 80 people died in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, although the true extent of the loss of life will not be known for some time. While the causes of the fire are still being investigated, early tests carried out by the British government indicate that the cladding system used was not sufficiently fireproof.
Recognising the safety risks of inadequate cladding, the UAE introduced a Fire and Life Safety Code (the Code) in January this year which imposes new exterior cladding installation and maintenance requirements.
Contractors and developers should use this to reflect on their current and future projects and ensure they (at least) comply with the Code. The new regulations are not just red tape but could actually save lives, particularly in high-rise apartment blocks which are common in the UAE.
Key features of the Fire and Life Safety Code
Tougher cladding regulations apply to everyone
It is reported that the cladding section of the Regulations alone took six months to draft. This chapter includes regulations governing the testing, installation and maintenance of the cladding. While existing buildings do not need to have the cladding changed, if the cladding section of a building is undergoing maintenance then it will need to be changed to comply with the new requirements. With some estimating that around 1,000 towers across the UAE use cladding of an older specification, this is likely to result in a huge cost within the industry.
The Code makes clear that fire regulations are a multi-party responsibility. It has a chapter specifying the requirements for developers, consultants, contractors and even the tenants. This makes clear that fire safety is not an issue where liability can simply be passed down to a subcontractor.
For the first time, fines for non-compliance range from AED 500 to AED 50,000 and apply for each violation. This is of course in addition to damages and compensation for any damage caused, whether to property or life.
The Code has additionally been updated to set out requirements for fire doors, access for Civil Defence trucks, fire alarms and sprinklers in villas, and even sets out regulations regarding boats moored at the Marina (reflecting the continuing economic upturn in the region).
We advise our developer and contractor clients on the need to be aware of the new regulations whether they are planning, building, maintaining or even refurbishing a building. The requirements could have a significant cost impact. However, a minor cost saving in the materials or design now could have an enormous cost further down the line. These regulations should be the minimum that buildings comply with, not a target.