In an atmosphere of tightening health and safety regulations, attempting to deliver a project on time in Dubai presents as great a challenge as ever. Combine this with fluctuating material prices, ongoing policy changes and modified site access, and contractors have got their work cut out.
Jumeirah Lake Towers, located opposite Dubai Marina, is one of the new developments in the city that encapsulate all these challenges. The 78-tower DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Centre) project has more reason than most to implement strict health and safety policies following the Fortune Tower fire that occurred on 18 January 2007, which saw two workers killed and 25 injured.
There has been greater emphasis on ... fire evacuation procedures and training.
Fawaz A Hadi, project manager, Al Liwa Contracting, who is working on the Lakeside Residence within the development, explains that operations on site are under tight supervision and regulations inevitably impact on the speed at which contractors are able to work.
"It is very obvious in the last 12 months," he says. "For example, [to begin with] no regulations were required on the voltage of electricity on site. But only two to three months ago, a new regulation was issued saying that all electrical equipment must be 110V instead of 220V."
As all equipment on site was 220V, this was clearly problematic and required the replacing or purchasing of an entire new line of equipment. But if a contractor cannot procure a 110V tool for a certain application, it has to provide a document from the supplier stating there is none in stock and that the tool isn't available in the UAE.
While Hadi stresses this isn't a novel concept - it was implemented on the original Dubai Airport - to start with 220V and then move to 110V still creates further pressure. This new stipulation was implemented by Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority's (JAFZA) Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) department.
"Sometimes I don't blame them, after the fire and accidents on site. And because of the speed at which we are going, there can be a lack of safety and supervision, but sometimes they stretch it too far," says Hadi. For example, he explains, the contractor must comply with weekly inspections on every tower in the development, which take up a great deal of time. Recommendations are then categorised in order of when they must be completed; 24 hours, 48 hours or a week. These changes are then re-inspected. "We call this opening and closing a report. It happens every single week," he adds.
There have also been specific changes with regards to actual fire safety on site. Apart from the frequent inspections, there has been a marked increase in the number of fire safety personnel. Hadi adds that a fire alarm has been installed even though the contractor is currently only working on the basement. There has been greater emphasis on the number and specification of fire extinguishers from JAFZA, and greater emphasis on the fire evacuation procedures and training for those responsible for the labourers.
Logistically, the construction of 78 towers in a single development would have been challenging enough. It is compounded, however, by a number of other factors, namely: contractors operating in a relatively small area, confined by the presence of the Sheikh Zayed Road; the ongoing construction of the Metro and various interchanges; and continual alterations to site access. Originally, access was provided via Sheikh Zayed Road, which then changed to Dubai Media City, and materials are now having to come in via the recently opened Interchange Five.
While it has been commented on that the market is maturing, Hadi says this perhaps disguises the fact that a lot of the developers and departmental bodies involved in the sector are relatively young and inexperienced.
"I think JAFZA and Nakheel are developing entities; I don't think they are as established as the others. So a lot of submissions, checking and forwarding done by them takes a lot of time. And I feel there is a lot of confusion in the process - sometimes they don't know what to do, and sometimes they don't know what to ask for and what to follow," says Hadi. This leads, in turn, to a delay in securing approval, which is essential for any project to commence on time.
The number of developing organisations operating within the emirate, and any overlap on projects, can also lead to further confusion. While Jumeirah Lake Towers was originally a Nakheel project, Hadi is unsure who is responsible for the client's land. "It is a confusing criteria. Nakheel is the main developer of the land. Then you have DMCC, which I think is the developer from Nakheel for this plot. Faithful & Gould is the project manager for Nakheel. Then JAFZA is the consultant from Nakheel. Then I have my own consultant, Khatib & Alami."
Lakeside Residence has secured its letter of approval from JAFZA, says Hadi, after "a lot of time" and the shoring and piling works have been completed. Currently the project is in the raft phase. Measuring 3m high, the raft will require 5,000m3 of concrete. Unsurprisingly, bearing in mind all the challenges, Hadi is unsure, despite adhering to a tight construction schedule, whether the building will be completed on time. The original schedule for the build was a six-month enabling works package and a 24-month construction phase, with a projected completion date by the end of 2008. It is a 34-storey 129m tower, worth US $129 million (AED330 million). Al Manal Development is the client and Cadiz is the architect.
Whether the rest of the Jumeirah Lake Towers development will be completed by the scheduled date ‘by the beginning of 2009', however, is a moot point, since for that date to be reached, all towers should have commenced construction and there is an estimated 30 still to get underway. "I cannot see a project starting now and finishing by the first quarter of 2009, we are talking 16 months," says Hadi.
Al Liwan Contracting has five other projects underway with the same client. Apart from the Lakeside Residence, it has one project in Dubai Silicon Oasis, one in TECOM, and two in Downtown Dubai. It also has three projects under design, which includes two in Dubai Investments Park: one is for 52 residential buildings and one for 21 office buildings. The contract, while not finalised, is estimated to be worth in the region of $1 billion.
While a tightening of regulations and greater supervision should be welcomed within the construction industry, it is clear that a balance must be sought between ensuring strict safety standards and allowing contractors to get on and deliver the projects for which they are already facing punishing deadlines. Failure to recognise this could see a stifling atmosphere develop, which would benefit neither contractor, nor developer.
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