Conformity assessment for the Middle East

Big Project ME speaks to Dominic Sims and Shahin Moinian from the International Code Council to hear about the organisation’s plans for the region

Innovation has been a driving force for growth in the construction industry, and to ensure that products and materials used in construction meet the relevant standards and pose no threat to the community, they must undergo rigorous testing and certification processes. In the MENA region, there are increasing efforts from the regulatory agencies to implement policies and procedures that support the safe and compliant use of innovative building systems.

The International Code Council’s recently concluded workshop on 15 February 2023, highlighted the importance of a strong regulatory framework that can accommodate innovation and how, through its services, the International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) is bridging the gap. The inaugural workshop was presented by the International Code Council’s MENA office in Dubai (ICC MENA) and it focused on the need to streamline the process of enabling the safe use of innovative and sustainable products in the construction industry. Presentations by manufacturers, regulators, stakeholders, and ICC-ES provided valuable insight and suggestions for improving the market for innovative construction products and materials.

Product evaluation: A matter of trust

It is crucial to evaluate construction products to ensure that designers can specify and builders can purchase safe and compliant materials and systems. In markets and industries where any product failures will have significant consequences, certification becomes a requirement. Certification offers numerous advantages, such as demonstrating compliance with specific standards, ensuring that products are used properly and meet the required specifications, and providing assurance to manufacturers and developers about product quality. By following the right compliance pathways, manufacturers can also reduce their risks and liabilities, while maintaining quality assurance for the certified products.

The use of quality-assured testing and certification processes and systems ensures the consistent compliance of every building product. In the MENA region, where scheme owners and demand drivers are AHJs, ensuring public safety is of top priority, and a robust regulatory framework is a critical pre-requisite to ensure compliance with building codes and standards. As a building safety expert with 90 years of history, ICC-ES understands that a strong regulatory framework for evaluating innovative construction products must resonate with reliable, accredited product testing and certification processes to guarantee the safety and quality of construction products and materials.

The role of ICC-ES in closing the gap

As a reputable third-party certification company, ICC-ES is independently accredited by numerous agencies to ISO/IEC 17065, and specialises in conducting technical evaluations of building products, materials, and systems to assess their compliance with building codes and standards.

With their trusted engineering expertise, ICC-ES has become a key player in the industry, providing technical evaluations to support regulators in the MENA region. Through partnerships with the AHJs, ICC-ES provides confidence to regulators, designers and the public by ensuring that every construction product and material entering the market meets specific standards without compromising public safety.

Offering total conformity assessment solutions for building safety stakeholders, including product testing, evaluation, and certification, ICC-ES works closely with all concerned stakeholders. It aims to provide a comprehensive solution that fills the gap between prescriptive regulations and innovative solutions and ensures the safety and compliance of construction products and materials, building a safe future for the community.

By facilitating the workshop, ICC MENA was able to serve as a market enabler, building trust among stakeholders and ultimately honouring and fostering safer and more compliant construction practices from all concerned parties. This exchange of insights and perspectives will continue to create opportunities for stakeholders to identify emerging trends and develop strategies to meet the evolving needs of the market.

The event: International Code Council’s Workshop exploring the safe and compliant use of sustainable and innovative technologies in construction

The workshop commenced with opening remarks from notable industry leaders including Dominic Sims, CEO, International Code Council; Meghan Gregonis, US Consul General, Dubai; Engineer Aisha Al-Mulla, Head of Research and Building Section, Dubai Municipality; and Engineer Riyadh Al Rasheed, Director of Technical Affairs, Saudi Building Code National Committee.

More than 90 delegates attended the event, with attendees coming from across the industry, including leading authorities having jurisdictions (AHJs), developers, contractors, architects, designers, and manufacturers, among others. The International Code Council showcased its on-the-ground support for organisations involved in building safety including government entities, construction management corporations, manufacturers, and design professionals.

Hosted by Mohamed Amer, Regional Director of Operations, ICC MENA, the workshop explored the need for increased compliance in the construction industry, especially in growing markets of the MENA region. He was joined by Dominic Sims, CBO, Chief Executive Officer, International Code Council and Shahin Moinian, PE, Executive Vice President of the International Code Council’s Conformity Assessment Group, as well as several International Code Council senior executives and board members from the United States.

The workshop delved into the challenges and opportunities in the region as it pushes the boundaries of architecture and engineering with ambitious projects in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Fundamental to safety in the built environment, the workshop highlighted the crucial importance of a robust regulatory framework for advanced and new building systems. Amer called for the sector to understand the importance of starting from a solid foundation, with stringent compliance, education, and technical knowledge sharing back to the construction community being keys to the future progress of the industry.

In order to better understand the aims and objectives of the International Code Council, Big Project ME caught up with Dominic Sims and Shahin Moinian on the side lines of the event for a chat about the day, the importance of codes and standards for the construction sector as it grapples with an unprecedented technological revolution, and the work that the International Code Council is doing with regional governments, following the successful launch of its office in Dubai.

“The workshop has been what we’ve envisioned and hoped for, and that was to get stakeholders talking about the use and application of innovative products and methods,” said Sims. “There’s also a growing understanding that products in and of themselves aren’t ‘it’. It’s about how they fit into a whole building system, and I think that’s one of the values that the International Code Council brings – we have a complete Family of Solutions, for every aspect of the built environment. A lot of the talk today was about product certification and evaluation and how this impacts a particular building design.”

Shahin Moinian added that throughout the day, attendees were conversing with International Code Council representatives and amongst themselves about getting their products certified and approved. He adds that he felt that there was a sense of uncertainty around starting the process of certification, which is why holding the workshop was so important.

“The major manufacturers design products to ensure compliance with the codes and standards before launching them. But some of the people who come up with innovative widgets and products, they may not know (the codes) or the process. Or maybe, they just need to find the right person to go and talk to,” he highlights, illustrating the reasons why the workshop needed to be held.

Sims points out that while things are evolving in the right direction, with the GCC increasingly taking on a strong leadership role, things can certainly improve across the region.

“Our activities here have certainly increased. We’ve established an office in Dubai and will likely be opening an office in Saudi Arabia as well, because there’s so much interest,” he says. “What we hope to see is more uniformity – that is part and parcel of our mission. One of the speakers pointed out today that the more unified a regulatory system is, the greater the level of compliance, and it actually helps reduce costs, because manufacturers then don’t have to create separate products for smaller markets but can instead create one product for a much larger market.”

Moinian points out that Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia have codes that are based upon the International Codes (I-Codes) and their codes reference many of the same standards of the model I-Codes. “In those two jurisdictions, I believe that the standards are well developed. In Dubai, – we had a fantastic meeting with Dubai Municipality (recently) and it looks like we’re going to cooperate and they’re going to use some of the criteria that we have developed for a lot of products,” he reveals.

“It takes a while for all parties to get on the same wavelength, but they (Dubai Municipality) have fantastic engineers – second to none – and our engineers are the same. It behoves us to cooperate. But at the same time, I feel that it’s one of those exponential type of things. We’re now on the same wavelength and as time goes on, it’ll be to the benefit of both parties to cooperate. They have a lot of evolving business activities, and we are glad to be part of it,” Moinian asserts.

Looking forward, Sims highlights Saudi Arabia as a key market for the International Code Council to have a base in and noted that the company is still working on the timeline for setting up an office there. However, he asserts the pace and scale of the giga-projects taking shape in the Kingdom means that there is a lot of demand on and for ICC resources, and that being on the ground will make a significant difference to the International Code Council’s ambitions there.

The International Code Council has been involved in projects in the region for more than 27 years and several jurisdictions use the International Codes as the basis for their building safety regulations. For example, in 2012, Abu Dhabi government, through its Department of Municipal Affairs, introduced the Abu Dhabi International Building Codes, which are based on the International Codes developed by the International Code Council to be the standards to guide the development of construction projects in the emirate.

Furthermore, while the I-Codes have been widely referenced in specific projects in Saudi Arabia for many years, including most of Saudi Aramco’s construction projects, in 2018, the Saudi Building Code National Committee introduced a mandatory suite of codes based on the I-Codes.

Communication to the industry is so important. Our team needs to convey the message that the International Code Council is a knowledge company, offering total conformity assessment solutions, and transferring our knowledge to manufacturers, designers and regulators,” Sims points out.

The Gulf Building Codes, which were announced by the Gulf Standardisation Organisation in September of 2022, are in turn based on the Saudi Building Code, drawing heavily from the I-Codes. Some of the new Saudi giga-projects, including NEOM, will see the implementation of the codes to create resilient projects, they add. Both Sims and Moinian say that they are confident about this last development having a transformative impact on the industry.

“Obviously, purely from a building safety perspective, uniformity has a lot of advantages to it. Firstly, it’s more predictable – manufacturers know what the rules are, while contractors understand them as well. Consequently, you can create more robust training programmes,” Sims elaborates.

“But at the same time, communities and governments are unique, and sometimes there are unique situations – so we have to allow for that diversity. I don’t think there’s a one size that fits all, but it should be possible to achieve something like 80% or 90% uniformity, with a little bit of wriggle room.”

Moinian adds that as an organisation, the International Code Council is currently focusing its efforts on moving the needle forward in its key markets of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia.

“However, as time goes on, I think we’re going to spread through the region. We have the tools to train and help manufacturers from any part of the world. What we do helps save lives,” he asserts, adding that the International Code Council is committed to continuously updating and improving its codes and standards.

Furthermore, because a lot of work carried out by the International Code Council is in the virtual world, both he and Sims encourage regional professionals to get involved online and become engaged in the process of developing and understanding codes for the region’s built environment.

“Our codes and standards are adopted, referenced, or accepted and implemented by a whole range of jurisdictions, both big and small,” says Sims. “Sometimes, they’re implemented more effectively than others, and that’s really something that governments need to consider when they’re looking at their economic development. The construction sector is important to most economies, and with the changes that are going on with regards to decarbonisation, it’s going to be even more important.”

Which is why we do offer training for regulators, to have them understand what best practices are, in terms of creating a one-stop permitting approach, or even streamlining the regulatory system. It takes a local will to want to do things like that, and we absolutely see that here in the region,” he concludes.

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