Fire Protection in the Middle Kingdom

The number of buildings constructed each year in the People’s Republic of China (P.R. China) is astronomical. In the Middle Kingdom, this is certainly the case due to the dynamic development of cities with millions of inhabitants and metropolitan regions. How significant is preventative fire protection in this process and how does fire protection actually work in China?

FeuerTrutz International 1-2019: Fire Protection in the Middle Kingdom
Fig. 1: Millions of people live and work in very limited space in China‘s urban centres (the picture shows Shanghai). Naturally, fire prevention has a special significance in such environments. (Source: Wenjie, Zhang / CC BY 2.0)

By Karl-Olaf Kaiser. Cities with millions of inhabitants and agglomerations of previously unknown dimensions have grown in China since the early 1990s, supported by the economic developments that have resulted from the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. This urbanisation brings with it considerable social challenges and needs, such as the construction of infrastructure facilities for childcare and education, health, culture, tourism, consumption, transport, etc. As prosperity increases across the general population and against the background of the negative impact of the radical exploitation of the country’s own resources, the demands for e.g. environmental and nature protection, sustainability, healthcare, safety and order are also growing.

Naturally, it is the flagship architectural projects, that regularly attract the attention of the expert community and broader public.

It is indisputable that these projects reflect contemporary international and increasingly Chinese architectural and engineering prowess – the renowned Pritzker Architecture Prize was awarded to a Chinese architect for the first time in 2012 (Wang Shu).

The diverse range of challenges, such as in the area of fire prevention, have to be resolved within the “corset” of a multitude of different Chinese regulations that are issued in national laws, standards, etc. These laws and standards not only apply to the spectacular projects but also for the vast majority of Chinese architects, engineers and construction companies in the implementation of an unimaginable number of supposedly “unspectacular” projects. 60 new airports have been constructed in the P.R. China since 2006 and the 12th Five-Year Plan for the healthcare sector included the construction of 20,000 hospitals (2011 – 2015) [1].

The author is often asked the following question in Germany in this context: “Does fire protection actually exist in China?” The clear answer is: Yes. The government regulations and standards for fire prevention in China are comparable to those in e.g. Germany.

Statutory fire protection regulations

The main legal regulations for construction are organised centrally by the government and are valid in all 22 provinces, five autonomous regions (e.g. Inner Mongolia or Tibet), four municipalities under the direct administration of central government (Shanghai, Peking, Tianjin, Chongqing) and two special administrative regions (Hong Kong, Macau) for the around 1,379 billion people (as of 2016) – and thus for about 20% of the world‘s population. The Construction Law (current version 2011), which has governed “supervision over and administration of construction activities and maintaining order of the construction market” in 85 articles since 1997, must be observed by all those involved in the building sector. Across eight chapters, the law defines regulations for the process for receiving construction permits, construction supervision, qualification of builders, planners, companies completing the construction work and requirements for building products, etc. In the area of fire protection, these regulations are defined in more detail in the Fire Protection Law, which has been in place since 2009. The 74 articles define e.g. the responsibilities of central administrative structures, including the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and local administrative levels, responsibilities, fire protection building documents (fire protection concept), compliance and acceptance declarations for the commissioning of structural facilities. Despite the highly centralised organisation of the legislative (and the state), supplementary local regulations that are issued in the provinces and elsewhere also need to be observed. As the old Chinese proverb goes: “Heaven is high and Beijing is far away.”

Legal requirements for manufacturers

FeuerTrutz International 1-2019: Fire Protection in the Middle Kingdom
Fig. 2: A special feature of Chinese fire protection for public buildings with a height of more than 100 m is that a secure refuge room or floor must be provided every 50 m (vertically). (Source: Karl-Olaf Kaiser)

For manufacturers of fire protection products, the Fire Protection Law contains the main regulations for placing and selling their goods on the market in the P.R. China. For this, numerous product groups require a national certification, the so-called China Compulsory Certificate (CCC), which has existed since 2002. Special certification by the responsible regulatory authority, the China Certification Center for Fire Products (CCCF), is required for defined fire safety products (CCC). Numerous other regulations also need to be observed in this context in order to gain access to the lucrative – but also challenging – Chinese building trade market legally. Since 01/01/2013, it has been necessary to comply with, amongst others, government Decree 122 that provides essential information for manufacturers of fire protection products in its 44 articles. Alongside general regulations and the scope of validity, it regulates market access, responsibilities and obligations with respect to product quality, supervision and inspection, as well as statutory liability.

There have been some significant amendments regarding CCC marks since 20/03/2018. On the one hand, the supplementary mark for special product groups that was required previously has been removed, i.e. fire protection products now use the uniform CCC mark instead of CCC-F, while on the other hand, responsibility has been moved from the Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) to the relevant certification authorities in each case – i.e. to the CCCF for fire protection products.

Products carrying the official CCC-F mark should now be changed by the relevant manufacturers. Consultation with those government bodies responsible from March 2018 is strongly advised.

Fire protection planning law

One of the key planning tools for fire prevention is the national standard (GB = Guo Biao) GB 50016-2014 (Code for Fire Protection design of buildings), which has been valid since 01/05/2015. It replaced and unified the previously valid standards GB 50016-2006 (Code for Fire Protection design on building fire protection and prevention) and GB 50045-95 (Code for Fire Protection design of tall buildings). The partial revision of standard GB 50016 was published in 2018 in Announcement 35 of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development from 30/03/2018. The current version of the standard must be observed from 01/10/2018. A total of 27 amendments were made in the following chapters: 5.1.3A, 5.4.4 (1, 2, 3, 4), 5.4.4B, 5.5.8, 5.5.13, 5.5.15, 5. 5.17, 6.2.2, 6.7.4A, 7.3.1, 7.3.5 (2, 3, 4), 8.2.1, 8.3.4, 8.4 .1, 10.1.5, 10.3.2, 11.0.4, 11.0.7 (2, 3, 4) (section). In addition, there were seven new sections.

According to Announcement No. 35 “the partial revision work, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the principles of the State‘s relevant fire protection laws, revised and improved the basic fire protection technical requirements for the design of elderly care facilities, the main contents include:

1. The scope of the care facilities for the elderly is clarified.

2. The allowable building height or number of floors for older care facilities and the separation requirements for combined construction are clarified.

3. The setting requirements for the living room for the elderly and the room for public activities are clarified.

4. Appropriately strengthen the requirements for safe evacuation, evacuation and fire protection facilities in elderly care facilities.“ [2]

The national standard in the version from 2014 has since been valid for, amongst other things, the erection, conversion and expansion of industrial buildings, warehouses, civil buildings, liquid tanks, storage locations for flammable materials and road tunnels. Residential buildings with a height of more than 27 m, as well as multi-storey industrial buildings, warehouses and other civil buildings with a height of more than 24 m are defined as high-rise buildings according to the standard. Buildings are thus also categorised according to the type of use and the building height in Chinese planning.

The fire protection requirements for these buildings are divided into four classes (I, II, III, IV) in the 2014 version of the standard. Assignment of the relevant class by the planner and the approval authorities has to be carried out in accordance with Table 1, while taking into account the following aspects: type of use, significance of the building, height and the risk of the fire spreading.

Depending on the building class, the type of use and the height of the building, the 2014 version of the standard gave the fire resistance classes for space-enclosing building components. These vary between 0.25 and 3 hours depending on the component and its function (load-bearing component or non-load-bearing component, required staircase, etc.). This information can then be used to derive the fire resistance classes for finishes such as openings (doors, windows), partitions, sealings etc. The 2014 version already included some important amendments and additions, e.g. the integration of wooden structures and facilities for the fire brigade. Residential buildings are now only evaluated based on their height. The requirements with respect to horizontal and vertical partitioning have been revised. In buildings for different types of use, these areas must be partitioned using separating walls. According to the 2014 version, special fire protection measures are required for buildings with a height of more than 250 m and must be agreed with the responsible approval body. A special feature of Chinese building law for escape routes in the 2014 version is the provision of secure refuge rooms or floors. These are compulsory for public buildings from a height of 100 m. They must be provided every 50 m vertically.

The dimensions of each refuge room are calculated based on the number of persons allocated to it. These areas are permitted to hold 5 persons/m2. Separating walls to other rooms must have a fire resistance rate of 3 hours (to technical rooms and ducts with pipe systems containing combustible media) and 2 hours (to technical rooms and ducts). Doors must have a fire protection quality of Class A, i.e. a defined resistance class and insulation class from at least 30 minutes up to more than 3 hours (also see here GB 12955-2008 for fire safety doors). The refuge rooms must have access to a fire brigade lift, fire brigade communications facilities and hose connections. A window (Class B) that opens outwards or a mechanical smoke extraction system must be fitted. It must also be possible to reach the refuge rooms from both the stairwells heading upwards and those heading downwards. In residential buildings with a height of more than 54 m, one room in each apartment should be positioned against the exterior wall and be fitted with an opening window (fire resistance rating of 1 hour). The separating walls of the room (also the external walls) must also have a fire resistance rating of 1 hour. The access doors should be Class B fire safety doors.

Qualification for those involved in the building work

A considerable proportion of construction activities in the P.R. China are directly initiated by the government or indirectly by state institutions. These state structures also pervade into economic circles, e.g. as investors, architects, specialist planners, companies carrying out the construction work and building supervisors, which are traditionally in private hands in those areas influenced by the Western hemisphere. Article 13 of the Construction Law of the P.R. China generally stipulates that those involved in the building sector (e.g. in planning, execution and supervision) must comply with defined requirements and hold certificates of competency: “Construction enterprises, surveying units, designing units and construction supervision units engaged in construction activities shall be graded, in terms of their qualifications, on the basis of their registered capital, specialized technicians, technologies, equipment and the construction projects completed, and they may only engage in construction activities within the scope specified for them in terms of their grades after passing the qualification examination and obtaining the appropriate qualification grade certificates.” [4]. Architects are also required to have the relevant certificate of competence, in this case a qualification as a Certified Public Architect, in order to handle planning projects. A differentiation needs to be made here between the certification of the architect as an individual person (quasi as a state approved Grade 1 or 2 architect) and the certification of the planning office – Architectural Design Licenses – (Classes A, B or C) who are permitted to carry out certain projects. Planning offices that want to handle large-scale projects or projects with a high degree of difficulty must have state approved architects (Grade 1).

Architects usually carry out their profession in licensed planning offices, which means that the office is the owner of the corresponding licence. The Architectural Design Licenses are issued based on defined framework parameters, e.g. annual turnover, number of employees, concluded projects and technical facilities. There are four classes of Architectural Design Licenses, which are split into three areas: Building design, structural analysis and building technology. In addition, there is also the Comprehensive Architectural License, which covers the supplemental specialist disciplines of façades, interior fittings, lightweight steel construction, lighting and fire protection.

  • Class A: Offices with this class of licence are permitted to plan all types of projects. Exceptions include projects with special levels of difficulty or underlying requirements such as e.g. nuclear power plants. The licence for a Class 1 office is valid for all provinces. Local contacts are also important – just like in Germany – so that there is also a regional focus.
  • Since 2012, offices with Class A licences must have a defined number of Certified Fire Engineers (CFE), Class A.
  • Class B and Class C: These offices are permitted to plan projects in their own province or in the area where the company is based.
  • Class D: Offices with this licence are not permitted to plan underground structural facilities.

FeuerTrutz International 1-2019: Fire Protection in the Middle Kingdom (Table: Classification of civil buildings)
Classification of civil buildings (Source: Code for Fire Protection design of buildings GB50016-2014)

Summary

The standards for fire prevention in the P.R. China are comparable to those in Germany. The planning regulations for those involved in the building sector can be found above all in the Fire Protection Law, as well as the national standard GB 50016-2014, which has been valid since the beginning of 2015 and was revised in March 2018 with validity from 01/10/2018. Manufacturers of fire protection products must observe the regulations in Decree 122 and, if necessary, the products must have received the obligatory CCC mark in order to enter the market, i.e. including their import into the P.R. China. As such, product certification is of great importance to gain access to the large-volume Chinese construction market. Manufacturers are required to keep track of the ongoing updates by the government, e.g. modifications to the CCC mark that were published from March 2018.

Study: Fire Protection in China

The country dossier "Fire Protection in China" provides manufacturers of fire protection products, planners, real estate investors, trade associations and foreign trade chambers with specific basic information on preventive fire protection in China.

Author: Dipl.-Ing. Karl-Olaf Kaiser
Publication date: Summer 2019

Author

Dipl.-Ing. Karl-Olaf Kaiser: Graduate degree in safety technology with a focus on fire and explosion protection (University of Wuppertal, Germany). Project manager for BPK Brandschutz Planung Klingsch (2000 – 2016, office manager 2013 - 2016), Freelance fire protection consultant (since 2016) with experience in numerous large projects, e.g. Berliner Schloss – Humboldt-Forum (Berlin, Germany: 2010-2016), Norman Manley International Airport (Kingston, Jamaica: 1999-2000).
Author of several books and many publications (since 2006): Amongst other, Brandschutztechnische Bauüberwachung – Haustechnik (Fire safety construction monitoring – building technology services) (2008), German Fire Protection (2015), Brandschutz in China (Fire Protection in China) (2017)
International experienced lecturer (since 2008): For, amongst others, FeuerTrutz, DSF, EIPOS, VDI, Jamaica Fire Brigade, Caribbean School of Architects.
info@kaiser-brandschutzseminare.de

Literature

[1] Nickl-Weller, C., Nickl. H., Matthys S.: Krankenhausarchitektur in China – Eine Perspektive deutscher Architekten (Hospital Architecture in China – A Perspective from German Architects ) in: Reisach U. (publisher): Das Gesundheitswesen in China (Strukturen, Akteure, Praxistipps), (Healthcare in China (Structures, Players, Practical Tips)), Medizinisch Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Berlin 2017

[2] www.zzguifan.com/webarbs/book/56160/3661447.shtml , accessed on 27/11/2018

[3] Kaiser, Karl-Olaf: Brandschutz in China (Fire Protection in China), FeuerTrutz Network GmbH, Cologne 2017

[4] www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/11/content_1383578.htm , accessed on 03/12/2018

The article was published in FeuerTrutz International, issue 1.2019 (January 2019).
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