Engineering on an international scale: Codes and standards

Working on projects clear across the globe may introduce more obstacles to overcome than mere distance and language barriers—each locale comes with its own codes, climate conditions, and unique characteristics. Building codes and standards are at the forefront.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer July 29, 2015


Mark Haboian, Senior Program Manager and Chemical Process Engineer, Optimation Technology Inc., Rochester, N.Y.

Brian E. Hagglund, PE, Assistant Manager—Middle East, Aon Fire Protection Engineering Corp., Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Bill Kosik, PE, CEM, LEED AP, BEMP, Distinguished Technologist, Data Center Facilities Consulting, Hewlett-Packard Co., Chicago

Erin McConahey, PE, LEED AP, FASHRAE, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles

CSE: Please explain some of the international codes, standards, and guidelines you use as a guide as you work on these facilities.

Hagglund: Working in the Middle East often requires resolution of local code requirements and standards against an international building code, such as the International Building Code (IBC) or NFPA 5000: Building Construction and Safety Code. In 2011, the UAE adopted its first national code, the UAE Fire Life Safety Code of Practice (FLSCP). The UAE FLSCP, which incorporates requirements from NFPA and British Standards, has brought a consistency to the AEC industry that had been previously lacking. Our office also regularly works with the Saudi Building Code, Qatar Fire Safety Standards, Gulf Cooperation Council Fire Codes, and National Building Code of India.

CSE: How have IBC and other codes affected your work on international facilities? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?

Hagglund: The Midfield Terminal Building at Abu Dhabi Airport was designed using the IBC. This has made Aon’s review work on the project very efficient, given our staff’s history of IBC expertise. However, not all designers and contractors working on the project have the background knowledge in applying the IBC, especially in a complex building such as an airport. Team members whose strength is in applying British Standards have to be trained on the differences between NFPA and British Standards system requirements. For example, NFPA 72 requires separate circuits for fire alarm detection and notification, while British Standards permit a combined circuit.

CSE: Do you find codes impacting international structures to be more or less taxing than those impacting work in the U.S.? If so, in what ways?

Hagglund: Typically, local codes in the Middle East are more restrictive than U.S.-based codes, as they tend to be quite prescriptive in nature and do not always provide the equivalency credits that are permitted in U.S. codes. Older codes being applied in the region do not take into account the need for performance-based designs that are critical to complex, modern structures. In these instances, it is important to liaise with Civil Defense early in the project to gain approval of design approaches that deviate from the prescriptive requirements.

CSE: In international high-rise and super-tall buildings, what unique codes or standards must you adhere to?

Hagglund: Middle East codes are typically not suited to address the design challenges for super-tall buildings. As many super-tall high-rises have been designed and built in the region in recent years, the only viable means to achieve the design is by implementing international codes, with the approval of Civil Defense.