Fire safety of the residential buildings in Hong Kong

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How fit for the purpose of the current regulations on the fire safety of the residential Low-rise buildings in Hong Kong Background Fire safety is an important topic in building because it is directly related to human’s lives. From past to now, the fire safety management and technologies keep improving. For example, every building now will have an escape route plan and some high-rise buildings have a design of refuge floor to manage the fire accident. There are also lots of fire resistant materials invented to use in the building like concrete, Fire-retardanttreatedwood and Calcium silicateboards etc. The purpose of all these improvement is to ensure a better fire safety in the buildings. In Hong Kong, there is a systematic framework to ensure the fire safety in buildings. We have a list of regulations and codes of practices concerning fire safety: -The fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance -Code of practices for the provision of means of escape in case of fire -Code of practices for means of access for firefighting and rescue -Code of practices for fire resistance construction -Code of Practice for Minimum Fire Service Installations and Equipment -Code of Practice for Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Installations and Equipment Moreover we have fire services department and the building department to enforce the law. However, fire safety is still not good enough in Hong Kong. Fire accidents are not unusual and lots of fire accidents happened in the old-residential buildings in HK. Take the most recent- 2011 Fa Yuen Street fire accident as an example. The fire broke out at Pai dong area inFa Yuen Street and quickly spread to the near Tong Lau buildings. It killed 9 people, injured 34 and about 118 people became homeless after the fire. It shows that Fire accident in the old Tong Lau can be a disaster. This accident has raised public concern on the fire safety problems on the old low-rise building. In fact, most Tong Lau / old low-rise residential buildings aged more than 40 years. They comply with the past fire safety regulations at which the time the building being built. However, with several changes to the regulations, these old buildings failed to comply with the current fire safety standard. According to the fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance 2007, all the composite and domestic buildings constructed on or before 1987 have to improve the fire safety to meet the requirements of today, the modern standards. For example, the automatic sprinkler systems are not required in the past but it becomes a must today. In the past three years, Hong Kong government seriously looked into problems of the fire safety performance in the old low-rise residential buildings. At the end of February 2013, around 6 000 out of the 9 000 old composite buildings in Hong Kong were inspected by the building department and the fire services department. Over 100 thousands Fire Safety Directions were issued to the occupiers requesting them to enhance the building fire safety to meet the updated standards. However, among all FS Directions issued, less than a quarter have been complied with. It was found that most of the old buildings have difficulties to comply with the modern fire safety regulations. Some owners and professionals criticize the modern fire safety regulation is too inflexible and not designed to target the old-residential buildings so a large scale of alteration work needed to be done in order to fulfil the strict regulations. Even worst, some regulations are not practical in the real world for instance, installing a water tank in the roof of the buildings is not feasible as some of these old buildings do not have pile foundation so they cannot withstand such an additional loading. No doubt, the alteration work would give a strong financial pressure to the owners. The situation even more severe in the apartment with only one or two unit per floor, small number of flat owner have to share a large sum of construction fee. The question most current residents want to ask is whether they follow straightly the current fire safety regulations to do the alteration and addition works are really the best and efficient way to help their buildings to fight fire. The dissertation is going to answer the above question. It will be focused on the domestic buildings of seven or less storeys, or the domestic buildings aged 40 years or more. An analysis study about the fire safety of Low-rise building will be carried out to examine the fire-safety in several aspects including the performance of prevention of fire, the fire control and the protection in the building. In this section, some past fire accidents will be studied. Through this examination, pressure points of fire dangers of the old- residential building will be identified. Then an evaluation on the current regulations will be carried out to see how fit for the purpose of the current regulations on the fire safety of the residential Low-rise buildings based on the examination of the pressure points. The low-rise buildings that have already undergone alteration and addition works and fulfilled the fire safety requirement and the buildings that still not yet fulfilled the fire safety requirement will also be cases studied. Finally I want to give some advices or alternatives for the fire safety construction works in these buildings, telling what must be done urgently and what are alternative ways to fulfill some requirement etc. Aim To analysis how fit for the purpose of the current regulations on the fire safety of the residential Low-rise buildings in Hong Kong Objectives
  1. Review on the history/background of the design of the old residential buildings for the fire safety
  2. Identify and compare the past and current fire safety regulations concerning the fire safety i.e. any addition, change and deletion
  3. Analysis the fire safety performance of the old residential buildings
  4. Examine the degree of fitness of these regulations to the the old residential buildings in fire safety
  5. Advice on the fire safety construction work
Methodology For the objective one and two, a Literature review will be done to find out the historic/background information of these old-buildings. For example, for what purpose they are being built, what is the design concept in that era, how is the fire safety being ensured in the past etc.? A large amount of information will be needed to understand the design of the old building, the scientific rational in the material used and the standards for fire safety in the past. Then, time factor is also taken into account. Through literature review, I would find out what is the impact of depreciation to the fire safety including the performance of concrete, the wood doors, the fire-resisting oil overtime and the relationship between structural frame and the fire etc. Moreover, some literature materials produced by the Hong Kong institute of Surveyors concerning on the fire-safety regulations will be helpful for me to identify the past and current fire safety regulations. To further compare the current and past regulations concerning the fire safety i.e. any addition, change and deletion, I need to study all the regulations concerning fire safety. I also need an interview with the professional surveyors and architects to get their opinion to support my comparison. For objective three, I have to analysis and examine the fire safety performance of these buildings. I designed to construct a “fire safety level index” which can be used to grade the safety performance of the old low-rise residential buildings. Fire safety can be viewed as ability of prevention of fire and performance in case there is a fire. The framework of index will be built based on real data and assumption: First, real case analysis on the past fire accidents to analysis their floor plans, the reasons of starting of fire, the spread of fire and the performance of escape and then identify the corresponding common weaknesses of these old buildings like the route of escape, the number of staircases, doors and the performance of insulating wall etc. Second, I will assume if there is a fire in some sample buildings, and do different models to represent different ways of starting of fire. Then, assess the performance of fire safety similarly to the above case study and identify the weakness, strength and the pressure points. In addition, I will interview the fireman, building services engineers and building surveyors to further assess the importance and role of every fire safety element. After all, all attributes in building related to fire safety will be categorized and given a weighting, say fire sprinkling system is very important and has multiplier 5 and the fireman lift is minor so it has a multiplier 1 only. For objective four, the degree of fitness of fire-safety regulations to the the old residential buildings in fire safety will be examined. In this part, the relationship between the fire safety regulations with the fire safety performance discussed above, concerns of construction work with time, money and feasibility. For example, if the fire sprinkler is proved in the fire safety index to be very crucial in the old-residential buildings. On the other hand, the fire safety regulations have stated the old-building has to install the sprinkler system. We can say this current ordinance fits the purpose of fire safety in old-residential building in theory. Then, it comes to consider the construction work with time, money and feasibility factors in reality. If that sprinkler is not practical at most cases due to the water tank loading problems or the incredibly high money/time cost, this current ordinance can be deems as not fitting the purpose of fire safety in old-residential building. The methods I used to draw this kind of conclusion are case analysis and interview the professional. There are over 3000 cases of alteration work done by old-residential building to comply with current fire-safety regulations. I could make use of their cases, to collect their alteration work financial report, construction work checklist and interview the owners’ corporations. There are also some project going to begin and I will do the site visit and access their fire safety performance by using my “fire safety level index” and compare the before and after. Interview will also be carried out in the buildings that refuse to comply with the Fire Safety Directions issued to find out their difficulties in complying with the current fire safety regulation. For objective five, based on the findings of importance of different elements in fire safety, the result of fitness of regulations and the case example studied, I think I can give advices on the fire safety construction work. The advices will be supported by interviewing the professionals. Brief Literature Review What is fire safety? Stollard and Abrahams’ (1999) gave an idea on it. The above diagram represents the fire tactics. There are five elements in fire safety in a building. First, prevention is always the fundamental element. A building should be design for a purpose and restrict the people for doing something so as to minimize the chance of fire accidents. However, if the prevention failed, it comes to the communication which is the fire alarm and smoke detector so as to allow all the users to notice the fire. Then, the fire could be extinguished successfully or otherwise become a disaster. People will escape when notice the fire and the staircases, the doors and the corridors all become a main factor to allow people escape efficiently or not. Containment is also an important part in fire safety, it concerns with how the fire being control. If the buildings have lots of fire-resisting wall and sprinkler system, the fire would not spread at fast rate. We can see all part in the building corporate to ensure fire safety. The code of practice of fire safety in HK 2011 stated the objective of fire safety. Fire safety provisions should be provided for both life safety and property protection. It includes protecting the life of occupants, minimizing the spread of fire, preventing the building collapse and helping firefighting and rescue action. Research programme 2014/6 -Literature review to find out the historic/background information of old-buildings -Literature review on impact of depreciation to the fire safety -Literature on materials produced by the Hong Kong institute of Surveyors concerning on the fire-safety regulations 2014/7 -Study of all fire safety regulations -Literature on materials produced by the Hong Kong institute of Surveyors concerning on the fire-safety regulations 2014/8 -Interview with the professional surveyors and architects on the fire-safety regulations (From my summer intern – BS firm) -Research on the old-residential buildings in Hong Kong (Which have complied with the current regulation, which haven’t?) 2014/9 -Construct the Fire Safety Level Index -Fire accidents case study -Interview the fireman, building services engineers and building surveyors to further assess the importance and role of every fire safety element. -Choose some buildings which can be representative of the old low rise residential buildings 2014/10 -Construct the Fire Safety Level Index -Fire accidents modeling building and analysis -Interview the representative buildings that planning to do alteration 2014/11 -Interview the representative buildings that undergone alteration -Interview the representative buildings that do not undergo alteration -Follow up the representative buildings that planning to do alteration 2014/12 -Interview the representative buildings that do not undergo alteration -Follow up the representative buildings that planning to do alteration -Financial report, construction work report analysis 2015/1 -Interview the representative buildings that do not undergo alteration -Follow up the representative buildings that planning to do alteration -Financial report, construction work report analysis -Interviewing the professionals to get the construction advices 2015/2 -Follow up the representative buildings that planning to do alteration -Financial report, construction work report analysis -Interviewing the professionals to get the construction advices 2015/3 -Amendment and correction 2015/4 -Amendment and correction Reference Abrahams, J. and Stollard, P. (1999) Fire from First Principles: A Design Guide to Building Fire Safety, 3rd edition. London: E&FN Spon. Buildings Department (2011) Code of Practice for Fire Safety in Buildings: HKSAR. LCQ5: Fire safety of old buildingson 2013/03/20 http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201303/20/P201303200373.htm Article on 2013/09/11 - fire safety directions http://hk.centanet.com/home/ColumnArticle.aspx?id=50325 Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors Pre-qualification Structural Learning http://www.hkis.org.hk/hkis/general/events/cpd-2012065B.pdf News om 2014/01/23- 消防屋署僵åŒ- 舊樓改å-„防火å-阻 http://orientaldaily.on.cc/cnt/news/20140123/00196_001.html News om 2014/01/27- 消防刁難舊樓業主 http://orientaldaily.on.cc/cnt/news/20140127/00196_001.html.
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