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Blame wiring for the fire


Muscat, Dec 5 - House owners want stiffer action taken against contractors who fit substandard electrical wiring in new homes to prevent deaths. Last week, eight people, most of whom were children, were killed in a fire that erupted in their home in the town of Barka in the early hours of the morning. A mother and her five daughters perished in the fire. Among the dead were a housemaid and a cousin of the children.

House owners have called for better workmanship during the construction of the houses. “These contractors use cheap wires and cables that cause fire. Also they buy cheap lights and electrical switches. People die unnecessarily and these deaths can be prevented. We cannot let it happen again and do nothing about it,” Khamis al Nabhani, a house owner whose bedroom had got charred last year, told the Observer.

According to the Public Authority for Civil Defence and Ambulance (PACDA), there had been 1,205 cases of fire in various parts of the country in 2017 compared with 1,189 cases reported last year. The house fire incident in Barka was the worst in recent history that occurred in Oman.

But safety experts say there has been a culture of poor fire safety awareness among workers and business owners.

“It is not just the owners of construction companies who are negligent, but they also employ unqualified electricians. These so-called electricians are everywhere. They have no licence but they fit the electric wiring of the houses. Such houses then become a death trap,” Majid al Shaikh, an electrical engineer, said.

He also called for an overhaul of safety standards, including stiffer penalties for contractors who fail to follow specifications for private houses and buildings. This should include strict hiring of electricians as well and broader awareness campaigns for the public.

“We have old safety standards that need to be reviewed. These old standards are outdated and most of them are obsolete. The concerned authorities must also visit sites under construction to check the licences of electricians working there.

We also want a public awareness drive to educate home owners to spot substandard electricals that are fitted in their homes.

There is no excuse for safety or fear of the system. We cannot have people dying all the time while others are profiting or simply not doing their jobs,” Al Shaikh added.

Hamood al Siyabi said the electrical wiring of his house was done by people who could not even speak English.

“They could not even spell the word ‘electricity’ and yet they were wiring the house. They learn their trade from watching others doing it. Contractors have this simple trick of getting unqualified people to do this cheap work. They register qualified electricians with Muscat Municipality but the actual electricians are these cowboys. Why? Because contractors don’t want to spend money on qualified people.

They grab anybody on the street to do the wiring,” said Al Siyabi, whose

new house was under fire in March this year.

Overloaded electrical units and poor quality wires are the main causes of house fires, say other safety experts.

“Contractors also use low rating wires to take the load of higher rating electrical units to save money. For example, the water heater uses a gauge of 15 amperes but they would use only six amperes that is normally used for lights. In other words, a thin wire to power a high current electrical unit. Such house is destined to catch fire anytime and kill someone. Unfortunately, someone allows these contractors to get away with it,” Al Siyabi said.

Saleh Al Shaibany

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