Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Carlton cut corners, costing lives

Carlton cut corners, costing lives
Bangalore, Feb 23, DHNS:

Gross violations of safety regulations may have cost many lives at Carlton Towers.

According to the National Building Code of India (NCBI), every high rise needs to have open space that is a third the size of the building. “But in the case of Carlton Towers and others, we have seen severe violations of these rules,” said an officer of the Fire and Emergency Services.

Illegal hoardings

There were illegal hoardings, a canteen and other unauthorised constructions including building pillars encroaching the space. The NCBI specifically mentions a proper and continuous means of egress (a pathway to safety) as one of the foremost precautions to be taken. In the case of Carlton, it seemed to be totally lacking.

“So much so, we had trouble in entering the building to save the people and help them to safety,” said the officer.

No mock drills

Another concern that has been raised due to the electrical short circuit in the towers is the absence of mock fire drills.

“As many as 300-400 people work in Carlton Towers. But most did not even have a basic knowledge of the topography of the building,” said the officer.

The fire has raised questions about safety measures in high rise buildings in the City. While there are rules and regulations that need to be adhered to during the construction phase, including a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Fire and Emergency Services Department, authorities state that most safety measures are found wanting. It was the third major high rise fire disaster in the City in the last six months.

No annual inspections

Perhaps the biggest concern is the annual inspection of the buildings in the City by the Emergency services officials. According to Fire Department sources, the Emergency Department has no powers of annual inspection.

“Once a building has been given an NOC at the time of construction, we have no authority to inspect the building again. In the absence of a proper by-law, our lack of powers gives enough leeway to building owners to indulge in violations,” said a Fire Department official.

Mahesh Bhatnagar, Director Sales and Marketing, Underwriters Laboratory (UL), a global safety certification company, said that during a situation such as the one that arose in the Carlton Towers, there needs to be two things that need to be checked.

“First, according to the NCBI rules, there needs to be a “semi-pressurised” zone between the room and staircase. Second, the place needs to have smoke blowers or fans in place for the air to be retained in the staircase,” Bhatnagar said. Along with this a “Fire resisting wall” that separates one area in a building from another also does not seem to be have been in place.

The other safety rule is to have proper “Roof Exits” in a place which can be accessed from the ground and is adequately cut off from the staircases in the building. Whether the Carlton Towers did have these safety measures is a question that will require some answers.

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