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Fire safety – who’s accountable?

In light of the new UAE Fire Code, Karim Badruddin examines the liability of the client, contractor and the manufacturer of fire safety equipment used in a project and the impact of the insurance cost on the client and the contractor. He stresses that each party involved shares the responsibility for occupant safety.

| | Apr 23, 2016 | 3:45 pm
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Fire safety is one of the principal areas that needs attention after a building is constructed, in order to minimise damage and avoid the spread of fire. The safest method to manage incidents of fire is, of course, to prevent it. While this is a desirable goal, it is not always achievable. The next best step is to improve fire safety norms.

To improve fire safety in the UAE, the authorities concerned launched the UAE Fire Code in 2011. Now, after a series of fire incidents, they have come up with a drive to review the UAE Fire Code in line with the British Standards and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Codes and Standards, with the objective of eliminating death and injury and protecting property and reducing economic loss during incidents of fire. When released, it will influence the construction industry in several ways.

Broadly speaking, building owners now need to inspect and re-evaluate their premises to ascertain if their property meets with the latest regulations. Also, the ministry will annually renew the required certificates. Manufacturers, on their part, will have to get their products certified by the local authorities before supplying them to contractors, failing which, they will be subjected to fines and legal sanctions.

The responsibility of the client/ owner

Owners are the entities who provide the commercial expenditure in order to execute a project proposal. They need to provide the necessary financial resources to contractors, who, on their part, execute the construction of the project. They are solely liable for ensuring that the building has proper commercial documents, such as permits and insurance. They also have to guarantee that the building premises is maintained in line with the policies and regulations laid down by the local authorities by arranging a third-party company to execute proper maintenance and checking, ensure that the equipment installed for fire safety is maintained in an operational state at all times and comply with the ministry regulations and internationally accepted standards, such as NFPA Codes and Standards. Owners, when working on the insurance policy, should bear in mind that any alterations after approval by the legal authorities shall be subjected to review and re-approval in order to avoid fines and disciplinary actions.

Onus of the contractor

Contractors are hired by the client to understand and transform their concepts into a practical engineering solution at a designated budget in a timely manner. Contractors always need to remember that apart from the client’s concept, the security and safety of building tenants is also taken into consideration. In this regard, contractors need to refer to the NFPA Codes and Standards, which are widely accepted in the GCC region, Asia and the United States.

Due to competition in the market, some contractors try to offer their services at lower rates by procuring affordable materials. This poses the risk of compromising on the quality of the project. However, as part of risk assessment, contractors should remember that the onus is on them to ensure that the materials procured for construction are legally approved by the local authorities. Upon completion of the project, contractors have to ensure that the fire safety equipment is installed properly as per the manufacturer’s guidelines, with requisite certification, and that it matches the design principle, so that it operates as expected in the event of a fire. The contractors are legally obliged to look after design and infrastructure, and guarantee that it is in line with the client requirements, ministry policies and NFPA Codes and Standards.

The manufacturers’ role

Manufacturers are approached by contractors to supply them equipment that complies with the specifications of the project. The manufacturers’ role is to make sure that the products supplied are as per the approved standards, and follow the necessary documentation and literature, and are accompanied by certification to support the credibility of the products. In short, a fire safety product needs to be approved and tested by a reputed third-party company in order to ensure the quality of the product.

Once manufacturers deliver the fire safety systems to the contractor, though it is not the duty of the manufacturers to install them, they need to play the role of educating the contractor on how to install the systems and see that proper processes are enforced to make sure that the systems perform in line with the requirements and product certification. It is also their duty to advise contractors as product specialists, if anything else needs to be done to achieve the desired optimum performance of the systems. Thus, the manufacturers’ job does not end with the supply of equipment to contractors. They need to maintain constant communication with the contractors to make sure if the products supplied are ideal for the project, are complete and have no defects.

Impact of insurance cost on the client and contractor

Occupant safety is a matter of great importance, which has led the UAE authorities to publish a standard for fire safety.

Before a building begins to operate, it is the responsibility of the authorities to make sure that building occupants are protected from and insured against unfortunate circumstances, as far as the structure of the building is concerned.

Before issuing insurance for a building, insurance companies evaluate the building, keeping in mind certain points, to determine the type and value of the insurance to be issued, such as the cost of the materials used for construction and the number of people who will occupy or use the building.

Typically, the premium for insuring buildings may be high, but those building owners who take the initiative of installing the best-in-class fire safety equipment and materials may benefit from favourable rates from insurance companies. This is because the high quality of the fire-safety equipment and materials could significantly lower the probability of casualties in the event of a fire outbreak. With less chances of death, injury, or property and economic loss during the unfortunate event of a fire, the interests of insurance companies, as well as those of the owners will be protected.

Karim Badruddin is the General Manager, Central Ventilation Systems Company, LLC. He can be contacted at karim.badruddin@cvshvac.com

CPI Industry accepts no liability for the views or opinions expressed in this column, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided here.

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