Fire safety compromised in Kenya buildings

February 10, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 10 – More than half of the buildings in Nairobi do not conform to the fire and safety health regulations, according to Nairobi Central Business District Association (NCBDA).
The association’s chairman Timothy Muriuki told Capital News on Tuesday that the random sampling of buildings that are frequented by the public on major streets had revealed that most of them were non-compliant despite the existence of necessary laws.

"Some buildings have locked their stair cases, a lot of them do not have working alarm systems; a lot more do not have wet-risers and many others do not have stair cases that are smoke-tight in case of fire," Mr Muriuki disclosed.

"What we would like to do is put this in the hands of building owners and employers to conduct their own audits and invite the City Council to verify those audits," he said.

Mr Muriuki said although some of the buildings were built long before the law was enacted, they could still comply through renovations or alterations to accommodate the necessary safety measures.

He said of the 30 buildings that were sampled, only four had complied with the safety measures translating to a paltry 30 percent.

"We have also noticed that there is high compromise of fire and safety preparedness in entertainment spots. Some of them get very crowded and they have active kitchens in them, they have no definite fire escape routes and from our survey again there is only about 30 percent compliance," he said.

He called on property owners and employers to immediately embark on awareness creation among occupants of buildings and employees.

"We are also considering initiating fire safety awards later in the year as we move towards sensitising compliance amongst our partners."

The NCBDA boss also urged the government to speed up the disaster preparedness policy to ensure there were proper guidelines on emergencies.

"It must deal first of all with how disasters are handled.  It must also deal with preparedness in terms of our institutions, but at the end of it I think observing the safety regulations lies with all," Mr Muriuki said.

He said buildings were supposed to conform to the fire and safety health regulations at the design stage.

"These regulations are not followed because we do not have regular council audits. Although some of these regulations are delegated by the Ministry of Public Works, you may find that the City Council may not have adequate capacity in terms of personnel to do these audits," Mr Muriuki said.

The revelations come just two weeks after the Nakumatt Downtown supermarket fire that claimed close to 30 lives.

An official at a local security firm, Martin Otiti said if the supermarket’s management had proper organisation on the evacuation process, more lives would have been saved.

"It would have been much easier if the management had a lead person in the evacuation process. This would have guided those who came to rescue in what to do; know where to get the water, how to evacuate the people trapped inside and where those evacuated would assemble," Mr Otiti said.

International House General Manager Brenda Waka said it was necessary for buildings to carry out fire drills regularly so that the tenants are aware of the evacuation process.

"We have actually had a fire here before, so for us it is something that we are very particular about. It’s a necessary evil that has to be done so that you are prepared in the event of a disaster so that there is no confusion and mayhem," she said.

"When you know what to do, it’s much easier to save lives and avoid a lot of destruction."

Ms Waka said a fire policy was also vital for any building to protect the occupants adding that it was important to have regular fire audits.

"Under the occupational health and safety rules every employer has to have a policy. So we do have emergency exits on every floor of the building that are clearly marked and all our tenants are aware of the fire exits," Ms Waka said.

"We have a fire alert system in the whole building that can detect smoke and heat in any part of the building and then we get that information on the computer panel which is on the ground floor."

"It is also connected to the urban fire and the city council so when it is pressed they will also know immediately," she said of the upmarket 13-storey office bloc that houses several foreign embassies.

She said when the building caught fire two years ago, they were able to put it out fast because of the fire and safety health regulations that are in place in the building.

"When you come into this building we have records of every single person in every office at every single moment so because of that record we were able to identify which offices still had people," she said.

"We called them through the intercom system and we were able to get them out of the building immediately," she said.


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