More fire safety, test­ing at con­struc­tion sites

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

THE In­sti­tu­tion of En­gi­neers, Malaysia (IEM) is grate­ful that no­body was hurt in the fire on the fifth floor of the Kom­tar Com­mer­cial Cen­tre, Penang that be­gan con­struc­tion on Oct 15. This fire was in the con­struc­tion site of the new theme park.

The fire caused dis­rup­tion to traf­fic and trad­ing in the area that Satur­day morn­ing. Con­struc­tion fire is a rather com­mon oc­cur­rence but most of them go un­no­ticed or un­re­ported, un­like this one be­cause it hap­pened right in the mid­dle of Ge­orge Town.

The ma­jor­ity of con­struc­tion fires are caused by weld­ing or cut­ting works with a flame torch. When hot sparks or hot metal slag rest on com­bustible ma­te­rial, a fire starts. These types of fire can be pre­vented if ad­e­quate pre­cau­tions are taken when such hot work is per­formed.

IEM would ad­vo­cate con­struc­tion sites in­crease safety by hav­ing a check­list on hot work and its safety re­quire­ments. The au­thor­i­ties can look into im­ple­ment­ing a Hot Work Per­mit, which would en­sure proper in­spec­tions are car­ried out be­fore any hot work is au­tho­rised.

A fire watch is re­quired when­ever weld­ing or cut­ting is per­formed in lo­ca­tions where any­thing greater than a mi­nor fire could de­velop. Hav­ing a fire watch present and mak­ing fire ex­tin­guish­ers avail­able would en­able a fire to be ex­tin­guished at its in­cip­i­ent stage.

From the news photo and in­ci­dent de­scrip­tion, it would seem that some parts of the build­ing were on fire.

Such build­ing fires tend to be more com­mon in mod­ern build­ings. The rea­son be­ing that more and more plas­tic and com­pos­ite build­ing ma­te­ri­als are be­ing used. The use of such ma­te­rial can be viewed as chang­ing with times.

This is be­cause these have the added ben­e­fit of be­ing light­weight, stronger, bet­ter in­su­lated, eas­ier to work with and form, and, in some in­stances, more sus­tain­able and greener prod­ucts.

Tra­di­tion­ally built build­ings, such as brick, con­crete or steel would be classed as non­com­bustible be­cause they do not burn. Some com­bustible ma­te­ri­als such as wood, tim­ber, cock and fin­ish­ing ma­te­rial like pa­per and cloths are nec­es­sary for build­ing-fin­ish­ing.

In or­der to en­sure these ma­te­ri­als are fire safe, test stan­dards were es­tab­lished to en­sure a cer­tain fire spread is met.

The cur­rent fire tests be­ing used in the build­ing by­laws are rather small scale, sam­ple tests. How­ever, such fire tests may not be a true rep­re­sen­ta­tion for such com­bustible ma­te­ri­als like plas­tic and foam. Plas­tics are gen­er­ally com­bustible ma­te­ri­als as they are mainly petroleum base. Fire re­tar­dants are added to make them safe, but man­u­fac­tur­ers can­not add too much oth­er­wise the plas­tic loses it ba­sic prop­er­ties.

IEM would sup­port a re­view of ex­ist­ing test­ing stan­dards to take into ac­count the ap­pli­ca­tion of mod­ern ma­te­rial. These new tests should typ­i­cally in­clude fire prop­a­ga­tion, smoke and toxic gases pro­duced. Know­ing these ma­te­ri­als are fire safe is also cru­cial for the long-term safety of the oc­cu­pants as well.

We are thank­ful that fire­fight­ers man­aged to con­trol this fire quickly. There have been many fires in­volv­ing plas­tic con­struc­tion ma­te­rial in other coun­tries, such as the CCTV an­nex, Bei­jing in 2009 and Monte Carlo Ho­tel, Las Ve­gas in 2008.

There are bet­ter ways to man­age fire safety, dur­ing con­struc­tion as well as dur­ing build­ing oc­cu­pancy.

IEM is will­ing to pro­vide the tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and in­de­pen­dent ad­vice to au­thor­i­ties in re­view­ing the fol­low-up mea­sures re­quired to pre­vent sim­i­lar ac­ci­dents from oc­cur­ring again.

Ir Tan Yean Chin Pres­i­dent The In­sti­tu­tion of En­gi­neers Malaysia

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