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Safety standards for high buildings questioned

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Safety measures in many aspects are not always adhered to within Cambodia’s construction industry, despite more tall buildings being built. Hong Menea

Safety standards for high buildings questioned

While skyscrapers are ceaselessly filling up Phnom Penh’s skyline, many construction and property experts, as well as ordinary citizens, are questioning whether the government’s measures to ensure safety in high buildings within the capital go far enough.

Cambodians aren’t used to living in tall buildings due to the fear of fires or other emergencies that could occur while living high above ground. Despite this, more than 600 buildings from five to 40 floors have already been constructed in the city.

Net Vatha, director of fire emergency and rescue at the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that there are currently three fire trucks equipped to handle fires in tall buildings. While he believes this number is sufficient at the moment, he said if Phnom Penh continues to experience such rapid development, providing quality services and ensuring safety for the people and the developments will be a pressing concern.

He said, “The Ministry of Interior will request the government for a policy to have enough equipment to rescue people in time when there’s a fire.” He added, “The fire fighters have recently undergone fire prevention training from a professional French trainer.”

Vatha said that hotel, apartment and condo developers have sought advice from experts on fire-prevention equipment they should place in their respective developments during and after construction.

He continued that when there was a fire on the eighth floor of New York Hotel, located around Wat Koh, his team was able to successfully put out the fire before it caused any casualties or major property damage.

Michael S. Nhim, a developer of a Sangkat Boeng Rong property and former manager of The Bay condo, said when constructing tall buildings, the proper foundation of the building needs to obviously be the first consideration.

The height of the building and the depth of the foundation have to follow the structure of the building in order to hold the building up. Other vital aspects to consider are the electrical system, elevators, emergency stairs, and standard staircases to ensure adequate evacuation during emergencies.

He added, “The electrical system is one of the main things to consider. The Bay spent over $60,000 to get an electrical system in that is sufficient to the actual condition.”

If set up incorrectly, it may lead to fuses being blown out. If the power is weak, the circuit breaker will automatically switch off, making it inconvenient and unsafe for the residents.

Nhim said nightlights and glass buildings are also major considerations because “we can’t place glass that can easily be shattered because once the glass shatters, we would not be able to build a balcony as it can fall and injure the pedestrians below.”

Nhim said he has noticed how some 20-storey buildings in Phnom Penh are dismissive of safety issues, suggesting that the ministry and private sector need to cooperate and assist in preventing dangerous situations that could arise in tall buildings.

He continued that construction should not only focus on the residents in the building, but also the residents living around the building by constructing a balcony to sustain glass and prevent it from falling down.

“In other countries, they closely follow construction and safety procedures, but the number of constructions abiding by the standards [in Cambodia] is still limited. Only those who understand the issues care.”

Lao Tip Seiha, deputy general director of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said all development proposals sent to the ministry have to include a safety verification letter, as well as fire equipment and prevention strategies for the ministry to give approval.

He continued that if a development proposal did not have the required verification, they would not be issued the permit. The ministry would then send the proposals back so that the developers can redo their proposal to include the necessary safety precautions.

Nop Somphoas, a resident in Sangkat Teuk Laak 3 in Toul Kork, expressed her worries about living in tall buildings, especially if a fire were to occur.

But if the buildings adhered to quality safety standards, including fire and storm prevention systems, she would be interested in living in a high-rise because life above ground level seems modern and sophisticated.

She said, “My kids are interested in living in condos, but the thing is that the condos are very expensive.”

Dr. Sen Socheat, vice-president of the Cambodian Society of Architects, said Cambodia does not have proper construction standards, adding that if there was a letter verifying the construction’s safety measures, it would still not suffice.

He believes that “the government should take advice from the private sector in order to put in place acceptable and global standard.”

“If an architect wishes to work on a building’s blueprint, they must think of more than the safety of the residents living within. They must also consider the overall safety of society, environment, and culture.”

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