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Sat 24 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Certifying standards in construction

RA Venkitachalam, vice president and managing director, Underwriters Laboratory, tells us how the construction industry in the region needs higher levels of education and training.

RA Venkitachalam, vice president and managing director, Underwriters Laboratory, tells us how the construction industry in the region needs higher levels of education and training.

What is the importance of standards and certifications to the construction industry?

Safety of human life is of paramount importance everywhere, especially so in the construction industry. Here, man and machines operate in situations which are inherently unsafe and therefore are prone to accidents.

Standards and certification apply to the construction industry at two levels, firstly during the construction of a building and later when the building is populated.

UL certifies PPE from hard hats to Safety lines where the products are tested to NFPA standards and have international acceptance. This addresses the safety requirements of the workers during the construction phase Our testing facilty at RTP in the US is the most advanced in the industry.

The building codes and standards with which any construction in a country have to comply with ensure that a constructed building is safe for people to occupy and is able to evacuate the inhabitants in the case of an emergency.

With no standard safety guidelines in the Middle East for the construction industry, does testing and certifying products or materials become a difficult task?

The OSHA guidelines are generally accepted worldwide and in addition a country may have specific local requirements. The first step is always to assess the specific standards and test requirements that need to be addressed to meet the requirements.

UL's comprehensive testing and certification process allows the contractors and asset owners access to the best technical expertise in the industry.

Why are you opening an office in Dubai? How relevant is the ME market to your company?

The Middle East has been a fast-growing region for UL thanks to the construction boom that we have been witnessing. Even with a possible slowdown in the immediate future, we expect that the business growth will be robust. With the heightened levels of awareness about safety and security.

UL is evaluating establishing a local presence in the Middle East to support the customers in the region, the location being yet to be finalised.

Will the economic downturn affect your business in the region?

While the impact of the economic downturn on the construction segment may be negative in the very near future in certain parts of the Middle East. But we expect that the overall growth for the region will still be attractive enough.

The enhanced awareness about and emphasis on safety and security systems is also opening up oppruinties with respect to existing buildings and assets. The opportunities here will be robust.

The Middle East is notorious for an inferior safety record in the construction industry. What can be done to improve it?

The strong growth that Middle East has been witnessing in the construction area has meant that the construction takes place in a very demanding environment. While the authorities and the asset owners take every care, there are occasions when an accident may occur.

Higher levels of education and training, usage of personnel protection equipment that are certified to global standards, stricter supervision and proper planning are some of the steps that can go a long way in addressing the challenge.

In this backdrop, how do you see your company working with companies to certify their construction materials in the region?

UL has multiple services that will be of relevance to the construction segment. Firstly, the usage of UL listed products in the construction and interior fitment of a building will ensure that the final product is safe foe everyone to occupy safely and operate in.

In addition to product certification, we also have certain specialised services like the UL qualified contractor fire stop program and fire alam panel certification.

The UL qualified contractor fire stop program ensures that the contractors/subcontractors follow the correct pratices in the installation of fire stops and other fire resistance material.

This is ensure strict compliance to the NFPA building codes and the standards.

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