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EPF fire shows much is lacking in fire safety compliance

LETTER | After the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London last June, I had raised my concerns to the MPBJ planning and development committee as to whether buildings in Petaling Jaya specifically and generally in Malaysia were at risk because of the use of non-fire-rated cladding on external walls being used.

The fire department representative who is a member of the committee replied that in Malaysia, all cladding used must be fire-rated and comply with the fire departments standards and it is the building owners responsibility to ensure that. Unfortunately, my concerns became true with the EPF building fire and I again raised this issue at the committee meeting on Feb 14, 2018.

The mayor informed me that MBPJ will work with the Malaysian Institute of Architects to issue advisory notices to member architects and building owners to check whether any and all cladding used meets fire safety standards. For new buildings, MBPJ will propose that the actual detailed list of materials and specifications must be submitted by the principal submitting person or qualified person who is usually an architect or engineer.

Legally, all approvals, as well as the ones given in the EPF case, are required to comply with by-law 144(1) of the uniform building by-laws 1984 (UBBL) which requires any cladding used for buildings to comply with the relevant building standards including fire safety and resistance. The UBBL further imposes the primary responsibility for ensuring compliance on the building owner and the qualified person who under UBBL7 is fully responsible to ensure that all works on the building comply with the relevant standards.

As the final report on the EPF fire is yet to be released, it will be inappropriate to speculate on liability at this stage. However, my advice is that all building owners should check with their architects, qualified persons or contractors whether the materials used meet the fire safety standards and list of approved materials by the fire department.

In Malaysia, there is no concept of local authority building inspector as there are in some other jurisdictions and compliance of material standards under the street drainage and building act 1974 and UBBL is usually driven by a qualified professional consultant. Perhaps it's time to change this.

Local authorities do, however, retain secondary supervisory and primary enforcement powers though these are not intended to be used for mass building safety compliance exercises nor are the local authorities presently logistically equipped to carry out the same.

DEREK FERNANDEZ is a lawyer and an MBPJ councillor.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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