It is incontestable that fire safety is one of the top priorities of the UAE’s construction industry.

From the globally publicised fire at The Address Hotel Downtown Dubai in December 2015, to the fire at Torch Tower this August – its second within a 30-month period – the last two years have seen a spate of high-profile fire accidents in the country.

Nevertheless, fire safety standards appear to have improved during the period. The number of fire accidents in the UAE reduced to 2,352 in 2016 – a 31% drop against 3,388 in 2015 – the country’s Ministry of Interior revealed, according to a report by state news agency, WAM, in February. Moreover, a national commitment to reducing fire accidents has prompted a prevention-oriented review of fire safety standards by both public and private sector experts.

In January 2016 – less than a fortnight after the Address Hotel Downtown Dubai fire – the Dubai Civil Defence (DCD) announced that it would review all buildings in the UAE to gauge any fire safety risks that they may pose. Shortly after, it was confirmed that an updated UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice would be launched to follow the standards and regulations that were initially launched in 2011. Slated for a 2016 release, an announcement about the updated code was made at Intersec 2017’s Fire Safety Conference this January.

At the time, First Lt Taher Hassan Altaher, head of DCD’s inspection and permitting section, said the updated code had been prepared based on international references and feedback from consultants, contractors, and property developers.

Construction consultants and fire safety professionals tell Construction Week that the updated UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice will make the country’s built environment safer and more fire-proof. According to these experts, key changes  have been made to the document in order to bolster the country’s life safety performance.

This July, Alexander Castellanos, the deputy head of fire and life safety at construction consultancy WSP, told Construction Week that the updated code “is intended to make requirements more straightforward and provide clarity for qualified fire safety professionals”.

He continued: “It is relevant to note that the 2017 [edition] is not necessarily a new code, but an update of the 2011 document. Similar to codes in other countries and jurisdictions, it includes requirements based on lessons learned from buildings that are in operation, new technologies, and fire events within recent years. A major overhaul has been implemented to classify buildings according to their risk profiles and associated fire and life safety requirements.” 

Peter van Gorp, director of fire and life safety at UAE-headquartered consultancy, AESG, echoes Castellanos’s views.

Van Gorp tells Construction Week that he first saw a comprehensive copy of the updated code this February, and another one in August, adding that there are “some slight changes” visible in the latter version, which is laid out on A4 pages instead of the previous A3-page style.

WSP’s Castellanos confirms that the updated code’s “most recent distribution was in August”. Speaking to Construction Week, he adds that the document contains 20 chapters, and two annexures – annexure 1, which covers frequently asked questions, and annexure 2, which specifies drawing submission requirements.

He adds: “With respect to technical changes, the key clarification is the area requirements for fire-fighting lobbies, which [have been] reduced from a minimum of 14m2 to 9m2. We are continuously coordinating the implementation of the 2017 code into [our] projects.”