Official statistics from the Royal Oman Police (ROP) show that there has been a house fire every year in the last seven years that has killed members of the family in Oman, raising question whether the government should make fire alarms a must for every home.
Last month, ten members of the same family died in Saham after a fire destroyed their house in one of the most heart-wrenching accidents in the last ten years.
This is the biggest casualty from a house fire since 2008 when a fire killed nine people in Muscat.
In July this year in Nizwa, four citizens died in their house, including two children. Last year in Barka, a mother and her five daughters were burnt to death along with her sister-in-law and a maid, taking the toll to eight.
In many countries around the world, it is mandatory to have fire alarms or smoke detectors in homes. In Oman, ROP has already made it a law for educational institutions to install such devices and the rule can easily be extended to homes.
A fire detector costs just RO 7 and you cannot put a monetary value to the loss of a loved one. It is understandable many people think it is an unnecessary cost to pay for, but the government can force the issue.
The cause of most house fires are increased use of cooling appliances and lights. A great majority of electrical fires start in the bedroom, but the highest number of deaths occur with fires located in the living room, kitchen and bedrooms, according to ROP statistics.
Many fires occur due to negligence of homeowners. For example, they tend to overload electrical outlets or extension cords by plugging in more than one high power appliance. For example, connecting a fridge and a freezer on the same outlet.
The purchase of inferior appliances that overheat very easily can cause fire as well. However, poor workmanship is also to be blamed.
Whatever the reason, Omanis are dying because of house fires. The Ministry of Housing must ask all contractors not to sign contracts of buildings with planning permission that do not have fire alarms in them.
The regional municipality offices across the country should emphasise the issue and not approve plans without the safety devices. It should also be a requirement for the existing home owners too.
Violators should be subjected to hefty fines.
This is important considering 65 per cent of fatalities in house fires are children under the age of 17.
But another important issue that is mostly overlooked is the skills of electricians doing wiring in residential buildings and villas.
For example, the Electricity and Water Authority’s planning permission department requires all electricians doing wiring in new houses to be qualified with at least a diploma.
However, contactors find a loophole here to save money. They register qualified electricians, but the actual person who is doing the wiring is an unskilled worker.
Inspectors checking the completion of a building or a villa meet the qualified electrician who shows them around. But they are unaware someone else did the wiring.
To avoid this problem, the government inspectors must do random checks during the construction to check the validity of papers of electricians.
Most of the owners of the residential houses have no idea this is happening because contractors do not want them to know.
The offending contractors must be punished severely if they are caught committing this fraud.
Without any doubt, they are the direct cause of fire-related deaths in houses because they want to save a few thousand rials. At the same time, authorities must take responsibility for not doing adequate checks.