Industry catches on to fire safety market

The fire safety sector in the UAE is growing at a similar pace to the country’s building boom. Christopher Sell talks standards, testing and intumescent coatings.

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By  Christopher Sell Published  December 23, 2006

|~|151prod200.gif|~|The adoption of the ‘European Standards’ aims to ensure uniformity and safety in paint products manufactured and distributed in the region and mitigate against fire damage to buildings.|~|If the pace of construction wasn’t placing enough pressure on supply, moves by the UAE Civil Defence Authority to enforce even more stringent fire safety measures on buildings has prompted an upsurge in demand for fire-retardant materials and safety products from the construction industry. Consequently, the UAE market for intumescent paint has witnessed a 200% growth, according to one of the country’s leading manufacturers of fire resistant coatings, Al Gurg Leighs Paints. “In 2005, the intumescent paint market in the UAE was estimated at around US $13.6 million (AED50 million),” says Andy Holt, market manager, Al Gurg Leigh’s Paints. “The rapid increase in construction has led to more steel structures, which in turn, has resulted in more than double the demand for protective coatings.” The consequence of fire for both life and property has made developers and consumers more aware of the need for greater protection. “They no longer compromise on quality to ensure complete safety and protection,” adds Holt. “In 2005, damage due to fire was estimated at $14.9 million in the UAE alone,” says Philip Mathew, general manager, Al Gurg Leigh’s Paints, adding that with the market growing so rapidly, the company is currently working on 47 projects including Dubai Festival City, the new Intercontinental Hotel, Al Kifaf Etisalat Building, the new Crowne Plaza Hotel and the Emirates Flight Crew Training Centre. Intumescent coatings act as a thermal insulant against fire. This surge in demand for protective coatings and ambiguity in industry standards have led to the adoption of one common standard among leading international paint producers. Endorsed by the Intumescent Coatings Forum (ICF), this common standard known as the ‘European Standards’, aims to remove any uncertainty and ensure uniformity and safety in paint products manufactured and distributed in the region. There are now 18 global paint manufacturers who have adopted the European Standards. These companies represent 95% of the total intumescent coatings supplied to the region. “Many local paint manufacturers are already reassessing their data and we hope the implementation of these standards will ensure the availability of technically correct data. We are aware that the movement will take time, but at least it’s a start,” says Holt. To meet demand for fire-retardant materials, Danube Building Materials unveiled an entire range of fire-retardant solutions at the Big 5 in November of this year. “Fire safety in the construction industry is a critical issue, especially with the Civil Defence authorities enforcing the use of fire-retardant materials in key areas, including entrances, staircase areas and kitchens,” says Rizwan Sajan, chairman, Danube Building Materials. Danube’s new unit will cater for contractors and joineries, which are required to adhere to stringent fire safety rules. New buildings are designed to provide as much physical protection as possible to occupants during a fire. Fire-rated products help limit the spread of fire within the structure, and reduce the exposure of occupants to fire and its lethal by-products, such as smoke. Anticipation of this increased demand has seen Danube open a dedicated door factory in Dubai, where world-class fire-retardant doors are manufactured in collaboration with Spano of Belgium and Halspan from the UK. It has also expanded its presence in the Gulf by launching operations in Bahrain, with a $2.7 million investment in a warehouse and showroom. The new venture also aims to tap into the construction boom in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Dubai Civil Defence and Bodycote Warrington fire, part of Bodycote Testing Group is also set to provide a centre of excellence for fire safety testing and approvals of products in Dubai. In future, products that could become fire protected include doors, door seals and glazing. If further indication was needed of the state of the sector, one needs look no further than the Intersec exhibition on health and safety – the region’s leading trade fair for commercial security, fire, safety and health, which is growing into an international event with this year set to be the largest yet, with over 600 exhibitors. The projected growth of the security systems and equipment market, especially for safety, within the UAE is estimated to be 25% per annum over the next five years. With the perpetual construction projects within the region, safety and security are becoming increasingly important. Intersec has already received international recognition and encouragement from the world’s premier health and safety organisations, including the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) – Europe’s leading body for health and safety professionals – and the National Examination Board in Occupational Health and Safety (NEBOSH). IOSH, an international non-governmental organisation, is pledging its support to Intersec 2007 by hosting its first health and safety Middle East conference on 23 January, alongside Intersec 2007, after launching its regional brand in 2006. With buildings climbing ever higher, it has also become yet more critical to ensure that passive, as well as active, fire control measures have been put in place. In the event of a fire these measures must act together to ensure that sufficient time will be available for the building occupants to safely evacuate. “Active measures rely on mechanical and electrical means to operate and when you are faced with a major shutdown these are not adequate, so passive measures are needed,” explains Ian McIntyre from the Australia-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). “These measures include materials and the design of the compartmentation to contain the spread of smoke and fire,” he adds. New buildings are designed to provide maximum physical protection to occupants. It is now common practice to isolate floors from one another, with intumescent barriers containing any potential fire to a single area. Service risers are also generally self-contained and appropriately sealed with fire-rated materials. Fire dampers add to the safety measures, being used to reduce any spread of fire or smoke and direct it away from the occupied areas. But the design is only the first part of ensuring fire safety measures are adequate. “Equally important when looking at a finished building is to check that what’s been tested [to ensure it meets relevant standards] has been installed properly,” says McIntyre. Something that Holt agrees with: “We can learn from experiences such as the ‘Twin Towers’, and to be innovative in the way we approach things for the future, so we can provide a good level of protection for people and buildings without having a disaster happen to make us sit up and take notice.”||**||

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