Building blocks

January 25, 2015

The death of a six-year-old who fell from a plaza floor has brought to light how safety measures are often ignored in the design and construction of multi-storey buildings

Building blocks

The news of Eeman, a six-year-old girl who lost her life after falling off a (reportedly) ill-constructed plaza floor in Gulberg recently, sent shock waves across the city. The incident also brought to light, yet again, how safety measures are often ignored in the construction design of multi-storey shopping malls.

Normally, people go shopping at the commercial malls with their children. A slightest carelessness either on the part of the parents or the plaza administration (regarding the construction of the building) could lead to a tragedy, as it happened with Eeman at the Xinua Mall on Mehmood Ali Kasuri Rd.

Following the tragic incident, a sort of blame-game ensued between the plaza administration and the guardians of the diseased.

Eeman’s father, Shahzad Aslam, addressing a specially called press conference, a few days after the incident, told the newsmen that the mall administration had not placed any signboard, warning against the 60-foot deep ditch on the third floor which had been left as it is. The floor was not fenced properly grilled.

The plaza administration, on the other hand, blamed Eeman’s parents for showing carelessness in handling her at the height.

The fire in an Anarkali plaza which claimed 12 lives, and the collapse of a wall of a marriage hall which killed five are the other few incidents that have happened in the city in less than a month’s time. There are many buildings in Lahore that boast a faulty design, in terms of safety, and some of them don’t even have emergency exits.

Eeman’s killing, in particular, points to an oft-ignored flaw in the most fashionably designed buildings -- a staircase with large gaps or, at best, without a railing and bars. This is hazardous, not only for the children but also the adults, especially the old and the frail.

The LDA Complex, for instance, has a bad staircase. The building of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), in contrast, is safe.

An LDA director, on condition of anonymity, says that Eeman’s is an "unusual incident. The real issue is how to save the plazas from fire, because the owners of these plazas are greedy and build huge structures without following the bylaws issued by the LDA.

A Rescue 1122 official, while talking to TNS, suggests that there should be a single building control authority in the city to monitor the construction of plazas and other multi-storey buildings.

"Poor implementation of the building bylaws is the cause of the illegal construction of plazas and malls [in the city]," he says.

"One reason for this is the existence of multiple building control authorities -- there are nine towns in Lahore and each town has its own [building control] authority. This creates hurdles [in implementation of law] because there is a lack of coordination and integration."

According to the Rescue 1122 official, Century Tower and Shaheen Complex boast exemplary safety measures. "It was Century Tower’s stringent fire safety measures that helped to check the occurrence of any casualties [when the fire broke out at the plaza in April last year]."

A shopkeeper at a multi-storey plaza says there should be a regular monitoring of all such buildings and a government body should be formed to ensure safety measures as well as the provision of the required facilities.

It is learnt that the plaza owners, after they have sold their shops, never bother to check the maintenance work. Loose electric wires keep dangling from various sides of the buildings. This is particularly true of Shah Alam and Hall Road where short-circuiting is a common issue and it can easily start a fire.

There is no doubt the LDA has made strict bylaws for construction of multi-storey buildings but the authority should not overlook the olden plazas. It would not be a good idea to demolish the plazas built without following the bylaws. These structures ought to be made safe by ensuring a regular maintenance and monitoring.

There has been criticism in media that since Eeman fell off from a plaza which was under construction, why did the LDA allow its owners to open the place to public.

The builder of the recently built marriage hall whose wall collapsed, killing five people including the bride, was arrested by the police and it transpired that substandard material had been used in the construction.

Building blocks