By David Millward, and Jessica Winch
2:22PM GMT 01 Jan 2016
• Huge fire erupts in a 63-storey hotel in Dubai
• Cause of fire unclear
• Dubai authorities report 16 injuries and one heart attack
• Unconfirmed reports of one fatality
• Witnessess: "It looks like it's completely gone"
• Hotel "fully evacuated" and NYE fireworks to continue
What will it take to tackle fire safety?
Peter Foster writes:
With three major skyscraper fires in as many years, is anyone in Dubai moving to fix a problem with flammable cladding that fire safety experts say will inevitably soon cost lives?
Not according to Barry Greenberg, the senior associate at BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP who last March co-wrote an article in Gulf Business outlining the legal battles over who should pay to retro-fit buildings to make them safe.
Mr Greenberg says that since he wrote the article there has been no “groundswell of litigation”, suggesting that owners and occupiers are not moving to fix a problem which would could cost millions of dollars, per building, to resolve.
These include measures to either spray exteriors with flame-retardant materials or fit exterior sprinkler systems or even condemn certain buildings.
The main reason, he surmises, is that no-one has yet been killed in one of these fires – will it take a mass casualty disaster to make a difference?
'Lax' fire safety
Peter Foster has just spoken to Phil Barry, a fire safety consultant with Gloucester-based CWB Fire Safety who has worked extensively in Qatar and the UAE and who warns it is “only a matter of time” before there are major fatalities caused by flammable cladding fires.
“No-one has died yet, but there will be fatalities sooner or later,” he says, adding that he estimates that up to 70 per cent of Dubai’s high rise buildings could be clad in the flammable materials.
He adds that fire safety inspections are often lax, either because they are carried out by an expat worker with the wrong qualifications, or because the owner of the buildings has political connections that make him 'bigger' than the fire safety authorities.
“The basic rule is that the outside of any building over 30 metres – which is as high as any fire-truck ladder can reach – must be made of non-combustible materials because you cannot fight the fire. Large numbers of buildings in the UAE do not meet that standard,” he said.
The difficulty for British visitor to Dubai and other UAE destinations is that it is often impossible to tell if your hotel or accommodation block is clad in flammable or non-flammable material.
“It’s not obvious just to look at it,” says Mr Barry, who served 30 years as a UK firefighter before becoming a senior lecturer in fire safety at the national fire service college in Gloucestershire.
He notes that while Dubai amended its fire standards for the exterior of buildings in 2013, the UK’s own standards have been in place for more than 40 years ever since the 1973 Summerland holiday park fire on the Isle of Man that killed 50 people and injured 8 others seriously.
Since that disaster, Mr Barry adds, British tall buildings must be compliant with British safety standard BS476 which meet so-called Class ‘0’ standard that allow for “no surface spread of flames”