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Need to Tighten Rules on Fire Safety Regulations

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

The massive fire incident in Karol Bagh’s Hotel Arpit had killed 17 people few days ago. Around 59 Indians are killed every day due to such fire incidents in the country. These statistics are definitely alarming. In fact, fire accidents take away more lives than any natural calamity or disasters. Every now and then, we come across newspaper headlines about fire accidents that shake the entire nation. If we look at the statistics over 3 lakh people have died of fire in India between 2001 and 2014. 

National Building Code of India covers the detailed guidelines for construction, maintenance and fire safety of the structures. National Building Code of India is published by Bureau of Indian Standards and it is recommendatory document. Guidelines were issued to the States to incorporate the recommendations of National Building Code into their local building bylaws making the recommendations of National Building Code of India as mandatory requirement. This office has also issued advisories on 18th April, 2017 to all the State Governments to incorporate and implement the latest National Building Code of India 2016 Part – IV “Fire & Life Safety” in their building bye- IS 13716 : 1993 Reaffirmed 2007 Indian Standard . FIRE SAFETY IN HOTELS — CODE OF PRACTICE laws.Indian Standard was adopted by the Bureau of Indian Standards, after the draft finalized by the Fire Safety Sectional Committee had been approved by the Civil Engineering Division Council. Recent fire losses in terms of life and property in hotel fires all over the world have highlighted the need for guidance on fire safety in hotel industry.

Life hazard in hotel industry depends mainly on the guests being ignorant of the layout of the floor and numerous paths of fire and smoke spread inherent in the building design. Property loss is due to use of variety of combustible building materials, furniture, decorations combined with high energy use. Absolute fire safety is not attainable in practice. The objective of this standard is to specify measures, which shall reduce the damage to life and property to a minimum. Nothing in this standard shall be constructed to prohibit better type of fire protection or greater degree of rescue provision by providing better life safety measures. Provisions of this standard are supplementary to the relevant statutory requirements as laid down in Indian Factory Act, Petroleum Rules, Gas Cylinder Rules, Indian Electricity Rules, etc. For the purpose of deciding whether a particular requirement of this standard is complied with, the final value, observed or calculated, expressing the result of a test, shall be rounded off in accordance with IS 2: 1960 'Rules for rounding off numerical values (revised)'. The number of significant places retained in the rounded off value should be the same as that of the specified value in this standard.

To raise awareness and make people aware about the gravity of the issue, the Indian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers’ Association (IEEMA) recently organized an Electrical Fire Safety Conclave at ITC Grand Maratha in Mumbai, which saw participation of nearly 400 experts and professionals from the safety industry. On the sidelines of the event, ISR spoke to Shreegopal Kabra, President, IEEMA, who tells us in-depth about the chief causes of fire and the crucial steps needed to be taken to prevent such accidents. 

Kabra asserts that in Indian scenario majority of the fire accidents are caused by electrical short circuits. “There are three prime reasons that result in electrical short circuits, namely poor quality wires and cables, errors and mistakes by electricians or contractors and overuse. Poor quality wires and cables however are the biggest culprit—around 80% of electrical short circuits occur due to substandard cables,” he updates. Most of the deaths during a fire are caused by suffocation and low visibility due to toxic smoke emanating from burning wire casings. 

Kabra asserts that the usage of better electrical products will add only nominally to the cost of construction. “Improving the choice of quality electrical products will lead to additional expense of Rs 25 per square feet, which is marginal as compared to its role in preventing fires. There should be no room for compromise with the quality of electrical products.” 

In the last decade, construction activities in India have constantly been on the rise, especially significant number of high-rise buildings have come up across the nation. Given this, it becomes all the more necessary to focus on fire prevention and safety. “Because of its peculiar nature, fire in residential buildings in particular, high rise buildings become more complex and the salvaging operations become more difficult,” avers Kabra. 

In the current scenario, there is a dire need for centre, states and provincial governments to jointly enforce more stringent fire safety regulations. “Stringent fire safety regulations are the need of the hour. Although the regulatory and statutory framework in terms of the Electricity Act, Electricity rules and the Central Electricity Authority Regulations have been framed, but implementation remains a challenge. Also, while the National Building Code 2016 has been finalized and devotes a sizeable portion on electrical safety of buildings, it has not been mandated across the country. There should be a law to enforce implementation of the National Building Code,” opines Kabra. 

Kabra also suggests amendments in the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) laws. “It should be made mandatory for the project developer to offer a guarantee of at least 10 years, instead of current 5 years, for all electrical and plumbing equipment that are used in the project,” he says. 

Kabra feels strongly that there is a need to raise knowledge about critical requirement for fire safety and prevention. In this regard, IEEMA is taking significant steps. Starting with the first conference in Mumbai, the association plans to do more such conclaves in the near future across the country to bring together and raise awareness amongst fire officers and state and central government officials. 

Awareness is definitely a critical step in the direction of preventing loss of lives and property from fire. Moreover, it requires serious efforts from the entire value chain. The government, builders and end-users all need to come together and play their part to prevent electrical accidents,”sums up Kabra. 

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