Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Deaths by fire on the rise due to total lack of building regulations

Deaths by fire on the rise due to total lack of building regulations

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Fire Safe’s managing director Paul Hurford. Hong Menea

Deaths by fire on the rise due to total lack of building regulations

On Monday, a fire at the Key Club in Phnom Penh killed five women. It was the club’s second fire in two years, and the latest in a series of blazes around the capital. Paul Hurford is the managing director of Fire Safe, an international consulting firm that offers clients training in fire safety. The Australian national spoke to Post Weekend about the reasons behind the Kingdom’s lacklustre fire safety record, and what needs to change

Authorities have deemed that the fire at the nightclub on Monday was caused by faulty wiring. Is that a common cause of fires in Cambodia? 

Electrical fires are very common here for the plain reason that there are no electrical standards.

There are no electricity standards for the installations and also no requirements for electricians to be qualified to do electrical engineering.

That’s a major problem in itself. The effect of that is that you have undersized cabling – it’s quite common here.

They’ll use one cable to feed five air conditioners, but they’ll need a bigger cable and the cable will get overloaded and hot.

Just the fact that overloading cables create heat has the potential to make fires, particularly if they’re not insulated.

If you have a karaoke bar with cushions on the wall and behind them cables running through, you have a significant fire risk. Poor installation is also a problem – it’s just poor quality workmanship. To a certain degree, substandard fittings and lights and that sort of thing are used.

Is part of the problem that fire regulation codes are being ignored? 

The problem is not that they’re being ignored, it’s that they don’t exist. The time and expertise to develop them is probably the biggest problem.

It’s a big effort. Everyone’s focus in the last 12 months has been on fire safety, but it’s something that can’t be rushed.

It needs to be tailored and designed for the climate and culture of Cambodia. It’s not as simple as grabbing Singaporean fire codes and using them here.

The way that people go about their life is very different here. The way that people cook their meals, the way that people live in a dense living environment, 12 to 15 people in an apartment that would probably house two or three people in the West.

Fire safety has always been a big issue here. Unfortunately, statistics are proving that it’s worse than ever.

To date, the official figure is 22 deaths. Last year was 24 for the entire year. And the year before was even lower. It’s growing significantly every year.

How do you rate the fire response forces here? 

The fire services are very much under-trained. They lack resources and also lack the enforcement systems to be able to do anything about it.

They’re trying very hard. The fire services have improved dramatically over the last 10 years but they still have a long way to go.

Our message to private business and residents is that there is a necessity to take a responsibility for fire safety in your home and business – to make the difference yourself. 

How much responsibility falls on business owners? 

The problem is understanding what can be enforced and what can’t.

Not having the regulations that state that you must have so many exits per occupant or you must have so many fire extinguishers.

An owner might not have much fire equipment, but there’s no regulation that states how much fire equipment he has to have. It’s a problem with compliance because you don’t have stuff to comply with.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all