Guardians of Compliance: A Deep Dive into India’s Fire Safety Rules and Regulations

Fire Safety Rules and Regulations play a significant role in fire risk management. Worldwide, fire is recognised as a significant risk across diverse industry sectors. 

Almost every day some fires are reported by the media across the country. Such fires not only claim numerous lives and cause injuries but also lead to substantial property damage.

During the last two decades, there has been vibrant growth in construction activities across India, especially in the domain of high-rise buildings.

Because of its specific nature, fires in residential buildings, in particular, high-rise building fires, are more complex to handle, and effect rescues from. The salvage operations become more difficult and sometimes even result in deaths and huge property losses.

The rapid modernisation of Indian Industry has also made the scenario more complex. Awareness towards fire safety has not been quite forthcoming. 

This article will focus on the overall scenario of the existing fire safety regulations in India and the effectiveness of these regulations in combating potential fire hazards.

Importance of Fire Safety Rules, Regulations and Legal Requirements

The importance of fire safety rules and regulations in a vastly populated country like India is paramount. There are many rules and regulations, codes and standards related to fire safety across different industry sectors.

Legal requirements ensure that fundamental fire and life safety measures are in place to manage the potential risks associated with fire incidents.

rules and Regulations - Regulatory response to fire risks in India

The Fire and Life Safety legal framework in India

The primary framework for fire safety regulations in India is the National Building Code of India (NBC), published by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The first edition of the NBC was published in 1970.

The third edition of the NBC was published in 2016 (the latest at the time of writing this article), incorporating the most contemporary developments in the construction activities in the country.

Important features of the NBC 2016:
  1. Inclusion of a complete philosophy and direction for successfully accomplishing the building projects through an Integrated Multidisciplinary Approach, right through the conceptual stage to the planning, designing, construction, operation and maintenance stages.
  2. A series of reforms in the building permit process
  3. Provisions to ensure and certify the safety of buildings against natural disasters by the engineer and structural engineer
  4. Provision for two-stage permits for high-rises and special buildings
  5. Provision for a periodic renewal certificate of occupied buildings from a structural, fire and electrical safety point of view.
  6. Provision for empowering engineers and architects for sanctioning plans of residential buildings of up to 500 m2.
  7. Inclusion of detailed town planning norms for various amenities such as educational facilities, medical facilities, distribution services, police, civil defence and home guards and fire services
  8. Revision of parking requirements for metro and megacities
  9. Revision of the provisions for buildings and facilities for the physically challenged
  10. Fire safety norms were completely revamped through detailed provisions on Fire Prevention, Life Safety and Fire Protection.
  11. Inclusion of new categories of starred hotels, heritage structures and archaeological monuments for fire safety provisions
  12. Substitution of halon-based fire extinguishers/fire fighting systems
  13. Promotion to new/innovative building materials/technologies
  • Demarcation of the fire zone
  • Restriction on the construction of buildings in each fire zone
  • Other restrictions and requirements necessary to minimise danger to life from fire, smoke, fumes or panic
  • Classification of buildings: Based on occupancy type, height, and floor area.
  • Fire resistance requirements: For structural and non-structural components.
  • Means of escape: Stairwells, fire escapes, and emergency exits.
  • Fire detection and alarm systems: Types, installation, and maintenance.
  • Firefighting equipment: Extinguishers, sprinklers, and hydrants.
  • Storage and handling of hazardous materials: Regulations for specific materials.
  • Emergency preparedness and evacuation plans: Drills, training, and signage.

The NBC 2016 recognises that the safety of life is more than a matter of means of egress and accordingly deals with various matters that are considered essential to the safety of life.

The Code therefore covers provisions relating to means of egress covering various components thereof, namely exit access, exit and exit discharge.

This plan takes into account the relative and ultimate safety considerations for both horizontal and vertical exits, along with a dedicated provision for a Fire Tower. It also covers provisions relating to fire protection of various occupancies through portable and fixed fire fighting installations, as outlined in Table 7 of NBC 2016.

The Fire Prevention and Fire Safety Act, 2005

Various state-specific fire safety rules and acts derive their foundation from the NBC, emphasising the importance of compliance at both national and regional levels. By and large, the State Fire Prevention and Fire Safety Act and Rules complement the National Building Code.

The State Fire Services Act is for the fire safety of the buildings. This law is a state legislature that needs to be maintained by all the states. It is an act to consolidate and amend the law relating to fire prevention and fire safety.

Some local-state laws are also applicable like the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Rules, 2009, framed under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006.

Related Statutes

Apart from the specific State Acts and Rules stated above, a number of legislations are available on matters relating to fire prevention, and fire protection.

Factories Act and Rules (State-specific)

Amongst these, the Factories Act and State Factories Rules are important ones. Section 38 of the Factories Act, 1948, emphasises the obligations of the occupier, which include 

(i) to adopt all practicable measures to prevent the outbreak and spread of fire, 

(ii) to provide a safe means of escape, 

(iii) to maintain the firefighting equipment properly and 

(iv) to familiarise all the workers with the means of escape during the fire and train them in steps to be taken in a fire accident.

Section 37 of the Factories Act, 1948, also prescribes detailed measures to prevent explosion hazards.

The State Factories Rules, framed under the Factories Act, have prescribed in detail, all the steps to be taken to prevent fire hazards.

PESO

PESO stands for the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization, and its main role is to oversee the safe handling, storage, and transportation of materials that can catch fire or explode. This regulates fire safety in industries where there is the use of hazardous substances.

Electrical rules

Electrical rules also contain fire and safety requrements in order to prevent electrical fire-related accidents.

Environment Protection Act of 1986

Environment Protection Act of 1986, which talks about environmental safety, also gives guidance regarding fire safety because, indirectly or directly, fire accidents harm or pollute the environment as well.

Chemical Accidents Rules, 1996

Chemical Accidents Rules, 1996 are there for the industries that are related to any type of chemicals. They give ideas regarding emergency planning, preparedness, and response in case of an accident, including fire accidents, as well.

Explosives Act and Rules

The Explosives Act and Rules are the legal regulations that control how explosives and similar materials are handled, stored, and transported.

Static and Mobile Pressure Vessel Rule 2016

Gas Cylinders Rules, 2016

Indian Boiler Regulations 1950

The Indian Boiler Regulations are like the rulebook for how boilers are used in India. They’re in place to ensure that boilers are used safely and to prevent any risk of fires or explosions.

Disaster Management Act mandates fire safety measures in public buildings.

Model Building Bye-Laws 2016