When I penned my Editor’s Comment for the April 2020 edition of Gulf Fire, I mentioned that the world was fast coming to terms with the growing impact that Coronavirus (Covid 19) was already having across the entire spectrum of civilisation. Soon after, the World Health Organization labelled the outbreak of the virulent disease a pandemic, and since then the tragic death toll from the virus around the globe and its knock-on effects have had a far-reaching and continuing effect upon the modern world.
There have been numerous impacts too for the wider fire protection industry, not least the postponement of many events, including major international shows such as Interschutz (Hannover, Germany), Firex (London), similar large American gatherings, and others elsewhere.
In the Gulf, the escalating situation with Covid 19 saw the World Expo 2020 due to be hosted by Dubai and originally scheduled to open on 20 October, 2020, and to end on 10 April, 2021, postponed to 2021 and the re-scheduled new date that calls for an opening on 1 October, 2021. A statement from the organising team stated: World Expos bring people together in a spirit of hope and collaboration for a better future. That is more needed now than ever, and we look forward to welcoming a world that is more resilient and unified in purpose, having overcome these very challenging times for us all.
A similar postponement fate saw the 10th Annual Fire Safety Technology Forum UAE being re-scheduled to 8 December 2020 at the Palazzo Versace Dubai. Gulf Fire is a principal fire media supporter of this significant event and the magazine team eagerly hope for brighter times in Dubai for this important re-arranged event, and others elsewhere in the Gulf.
The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster in London in June 2017 has also been paused due to the pandemic, although the various outcomes of the tragic fire that caused the deaths of 72 men, women and children with some 255 survivors suffering from smoke inhalation and serious trauma continue to emerge. Almost three years after the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire, the UK Government has recently published its proposals described as “the biggest change in building fire safety for a generation”.
The UK proposals for a new building safety regime are set out in the Government’s response to the ‘Building a Safer Future’ consultation and are based on the acceptance of all 53 recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, and in some cases may go further. The proposals will surely be carefully scrutinised for possible adoption in countries outside of the UK.
The UK Government is proposing to apply the new safety regime initially to all multi-occupied residential buildings of at least 18 metres, or more than six storeys (buildings “in scope”), but this can be extended to other premises. A new Building Safety Regulator will have a duty to keep the scope of the regulatory system under review and to provide advice to government when the evidence suggests it should be extended.
This new regulatory structure will initially apply throughout the lifecycle of new builds, and later to the occupation stage of existing buildings. There will be a new duty-holder regime placing greater responsibility on those designing and constructing buildings to explain how they are managing risks and demonstrating that the building is safe to be occupied.
The Building Safety Regulator (the regulator) will be responsible for all major regulatory decisions made at key points during the design, construction, occupation and refurbishment of relevant buildings, drawing on the expertise and advice of other regulators and relevant experts, such as fire and rescue services, local authorities and the UK Health and Safety Executive. Decisions will include whether to allow a building to be constructed and later occupied, and whether the Accountable Person has demonstrated that appropriate actions to mitigate and manage fire and structural risks are being taken.
Highlighting the move away from local control, the Building Safety Regulator will also carry out functions at national level, such as:
- Establishing a register of relevant buildings and other national systems
- Ensuring that residents’ complaints about safety issues are dealt with quickly and effectively
- Producing advice to help duty-holders discharge their responsibilities
- Advising on current and emerging safety risks in relevant buildings
- Hosting centres of excellence to strengthen enforcement, including specialist expertise to assist with prosecuting complex cases, and to develop best practice on engagement with residents.
The focus on the new UK fire safety proposals came just as another serious high rise tower fire involving flammable cladding panels occurred on 5 May, 2020 at the 49-storey Abbco residential tower building in the Al Nahda area of Sharjah, UAE. The fire rapidly spread up the external face of the tower fuelled by the banned flammable aluminium composite cladding.
250 families were evacuated as Civil Defence fire crews tackled the outbreak which came under control after 3 hours of intense firefighting. There were no serious injuries. According to Sharjah Civil Defence, the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette butt or shisha coals thrown onto the 10th floor from one of the flats above.
Colonel Sami Khamis Al Naqbi, Director General of Sharjah Civil Defence, said that as a result of the Abbco fire, 150 buildings in Sharjah would now have to have their flammable cladding replaced. He said the Abbco Tower was fitted with cladding that had been banned in 2016 and that only new builds of less than seven storeys or 23 metres – to allow for fire engine ladder length – were now allowed to install the cladding.
Officials from Sharjah Municipality have carried out field inspections to ensure the highest specifications and standards are implemented in all buildings, especially among those that have aluminium cladding panels fitted.
My Gulf Fire colleagues and I look forward to somewhat happier times at the re-arranged events later in the year and into 2021.