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Design for Mobility, Safety and protection from Disaster – Legal provisions in Pakistan

 

Communities evolve continuously to adapt to the changing needs of their habitats. When it comes to housing and infrastructure (the manmade environment), it is our Architects and Engineers who are to play the key role in assessing the current & future needs of the users in this environment and to meet such needs through their design. A man-made environment which doesn’t provide an ease in mobility or safety against various natural and human disasters will minimize its utility, thus causing a loss in its economic value.

How easy is it for you if tomorrow you have to use a wheelchair and reach out to your office desk, Movie Theater and for the grocery shopping? Or maybe to reach out to school or a campus as a student or as a teacher? Or maybe to reach a court either to argue for your client or maybe to appear yourself for a case? And how about going into your bank or your relative’s home or for a dinner in some restaurant? Can you imagine how difficult life can be if you are wheelchair bound? Infrastructure designed by architects and engineers can help to ease mobility in all such instances. Unfortunately, man-made design in Pakistan does not allow for this. I will not be surprised if many of the practising Architects, town planners and engineers are not even aware of The Accessibility Code of Pakistan 2006. This is a code in place by Federal Govt setting out the minimum standards and guidelines to assist the designers to engender an environment accommodating the disabled (like those making use of the wheelchair). It has been in force for over a decade, during which a lot of infrastructures has been developed, none of which accommodates the disabled.

In a community, all segments of life need consideration in the design of its infrastructure, to enable better design facilitating all, to be engendered. By ignoring the mobility of the disabled (particularly those making use of a wheelchair) we are simply expressing disregard and contempt for the disabled and in fact, we are cutting them away from the community’s shared life. Schools & Universities are the largest hosts of a population within a single set of infrastructure development. How many of our schools and campuses are designed with all due consideration of mobility and firefighting/ safety? The school where you drop your kids in the morning, do they have wheelchair access or do they have firefighting support available in an emergency? Our schools, hospitals and other public spaces of assembly should be designed very carefully considering all such matters. Now as the Design guides and regulations have been put in place, the designer should be more compliant with these requirements. The regulatory regime of construction is much devolved to the autonomous institutions, Development authorities and the District governments to regulate the construction industry within their jurisdiction and it is in their mandate to enforce any regulation issued by Federal Govt in this regard.

Construction safety is still one big concern and the construction industry has not made any significant progress in this area. We are losing many workers every year due to a poor workplace safety management system. While putting more resources and efforts to manage workplace safety, we need to move upstream in the development process to eliminate or to reduce the construction hazards to as low as practically impossible. On the upstream, planning & design stage, we can eliminate or reduce the number of risks that otherwise may pose serious hazards during construction or post-construction maintenance. Some countries have already moved on to Design for safety in the development process in an effort to eliminate the hazards of under-construction and built environment right from the planning & design stage.

The Planning Commission of Pakistan has adopted such an approach in view of eliminating or reducing the effects of man-made or natural disasters. In a circular of November 2010, it directed to incorporate the measures adopted for disaster risk reduction at project planning, design and implementation project in PC-I & PC-II. Owing to the man-made disasters, the NDMA & the Pakistan Engineering Council have produced a Building Code of Pakistan (Fire safety provisions) 2016 to be applied to buildings, those which have been built and those in the process of construction. To ensure compliance, PEC has amended the Construction and Operation of Engineering work bye-laws 1987 to render non-compliance of Fire Safety provisions to be a violation of Professional engineering works. Fire safety provisions guide infrastructure designers to plan in order to avoid fire outbreaks and to allow for the easy management of fire, in instances of an accident. These provisions apply to all existing and new buildings. A three-year period has been given to existing buildings to comply with these provisions while new buildings are required to comply instantly. The results of this implementation have yet to be seen, but it is imperative for all those involved to accord greater respect to human life and the regulations guiding their work, as it is only through compliance, that a change in the pre-existing practice of infrastructure design will be engendered. This change is likely to not only be a beneficial aid to the infrastructure of Pakistan but will help streamline the attitudes of those involved, to make the sanctity of human life, a reserved priority.

(This opinion was 1st published by LEAP Pakistan and is accessible from here.)

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Yasir Cheema

Yasir Cheema is a Civil Engineer by training and currently working as Resident Engineer for Surbana Jurong Pte. Ltd. in Singapore. He writes at this portal about Governance, Public policy, Institutional development, Construction practices, and procedures.

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