I refer to an article titled “Colombo high rises a major fire risk, says UK expert” which appeared in the Business Times on August 5, 2018. As per a comment made by a foreign consultant, the fire risk in Colombo is said to be very high. This was made probably after observing the current mega [...]

Business Times

“Colombo high rises a major fire risk, says UK expert”


I refer to an article titled “Colombo high rises a major fire risk, says UK expert” which appeared in the Business Times on August 5, 2018.

File picture of the Wellawatte building collapse.

As per a comment made by a foreign consultant, the fire risk in Colombo is said to be very high. This was made probably after observing the current mega structures being built around the city at an unprecedented rate.

The nasty fire in Grenfell Tower, London, England claimed as many as 72 lives which could have been saved had the precautions been taken adequately. In fact residents of the Tower had repeatedly warned the authorities that they had only a single staircase for evacuation in case of a fire.

Although the UK Fire was claimed to have erupted through ACM cladding, Sri Lankans are fortunate to have them installed only in commercial, office and other business occupancies, but not in apartments/condominiums.

Therefore we may not see an imminent danger as such. In the Sri Lankan context, the Urban Development Authority (UDA) or local authority is taken as the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Such AHJs always depend on Fire Services Department recommendation and certification.

The Fire Department needs to abide by the regulations published by the Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA) and implementation to be strictly complied by the local fire brigades. CIDA Act No 33 of 2014 specifies the use of standard documents published by CIDA in any “Identified Construction Works” (ICW) by its clauses 28 and 46. The current value of an ICW is Rs. 10 million.

This implies that all the buildings and structures made for public use other than for a private use are covered under this. In addition to that all ICWs shall be carried out by CIDA Registered Contractors. Installations of fire systems shall be undertaken by EM Contractors registered under the category of Fire Detection Protection and Suppression (FDPS) systems, thus ensuring no substandard products come out risking the lives of people who occupy such buildings. Moreover the extraordinary gazette no. 2085/ 20 of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka published on August 23, 2018 in relation to clause 38 of the Act, specifically mentions that every identified construction work shall be carried out in conformity with the required quality and workmanship specified in the applicable conditions of the contract and the specifications listed.

The schedule such listed contains the CIDA/DEV/14 Fire Regulation document along with an array of standards documents.

Currently the Colombo Fire Brigade possesses an Aerial ladder platform reaching a maximum height of 54 metres or 18 floors. As understood, it will soon be equipped with three mobiles of 65 m reach. They will be parked in three strategic locations for emergency purposes. However there shall be self protection systems (active and passive) that should be built into High Rises rather than depend on external evacuation, in case of a fire. The time required for a complete evacuation is always taken for a Fire System design, as safe egress. However practical situations have shown that the safe egress had not been sufficient for completely averting harm and injuries.

Occupants of high rise buildings in which automatic sprinklers are not installed and particularly on upper floors could be faced with severe smoke conditions before their self evacuation. As such the implementing and monitoring authorities, namely Fire Services Department, UDA and local authorities (AHJs) shall use their powers to ensure CIDA regulations are being adopted appropriately considering those most important life safety aspects.

CIDA fire regulations

The 3rd revision of the Fire Regulation was carried out with a competent team of members attached to the Industry. These competent persons represented the Department of Fire Services, Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE), Sri Lanka Branch, Building Services Engineering Sectional committee of IESL, Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) and many other professional entities.

Initiated in 1997, it had been subjected to the first revision in 2006. Under the latest revision, a new chapter for Maintenance has been included in order to meet challenges in the implementation mechanism. The introduction of a Refuge Floor for every 10 floors in all Super High-Rise buildings is a latest addition to these regulations. However it had been in practice in a global context for a long time. CIDA categorises above 20 floor buildings as Super High Rise, while above 10 floors are classified as High Rise. Generally a floor height is taken as 3 metres. Nevertheless some international classifications take Super High-Rises as above 120 floors, as per their own landscape and built environment capabilities. Another salient inclusion to local regulations is fire requirements for building under construction. This is a proactive measure to avoid property and life safety in sites of many constructions taking place all over the country. In addition to that the new regulations ensure that following key protections measures/areas are covered upon proper implementation.

Protection Measures

(1) No combustibles in stairs and lobbies
(2) Restricted travel distances within unit
(3) Sprinklers to control growth of fire
(4) Unit enclosures – penetrations sealed ; Self-closing doors
(5) Vertical spread – lifts, services
(6) Fire resistance- fires to start and stay in a residential unit
(7) Direction and alarms – to rapidly start the evacuation locally
(8) Smoke control to keep paths clear from smoke
(9) External penetration through Windows and Extraction systems
(10) Fire Brigade facilities – Water supplies, Fireman’s lift and Structure’s stability.

There are over 100 regulations in the latest document released by CIDA. The first copy of the revised document was handed over to the Minister of Housing and Construction Sajith Premadasa and to the Deputy Minister, Indika Bandaranayaka earlier on this month by the Chairman of CIDA, M.R. Jeyachandran. Eng. Jeyachandran was the former Director General of Buildings and held several top positions in the Construction Industry before assuming duties as Chairman CIDA.

The launch of this important revised publication marks an important milestone of the CIDA history under its obligations to the nation, as the apex regulator to the construction industry.

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