Fire prevention measures for self-storage facilities vital, but costly, industry body says

Proposed solution to the fire risk posed by tightly-packed storage units would use fireproof boards to separate containers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 12:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 10:15am

A “win-win solution” for Hong Kong’s self storage industry to meet fire safety standards has been found, but the changes will come at a high cost for some, an industry body said.

The Self Storage Association Asia, which represents about two-thirds of the industry, has agreed to meet the government’s building and fire safety requirements after hiring a fire engineer from consulting firm Arup and a team of surveyors last December.

With fireproof boards to enclose storage clusters, operators can work around meeting two main requirements that operators said were the most difficult to meet: A 2.4-metre separation distance between storage islands and a maximum 50 square metre storage area.

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Such alterations would prevent fire from spreading for at least 30 minutes – an essential condition specified by the Fire Services Department.

“Fire safety principles were very difficult for the sustainability for the industry, so it was important to match safety and sustainability in order to meet all stakeholder needs to find a win-win solution,” the body’s executive director Luigi La Tona told the Post.

The proposal will be submitted to the FSD this week. Operators will have to deal with authorities for approval of their modifications on a case by case basis.

Authorities have sought to strictly enforce regulations since an inferno at an industrial building housing mini-storage facilities took the lives of two firefighters last June.

The proposal, if approved, will be a “rebirth” for the industry, La Tona said. The industry has witnessed explosive, unregulated growth in the past two decades as smaller flats and unaffordable property prices have pushed residents to find other places to store their possessions.

Just short of half of 885 inspected facilities (423 out of 885 facilities) failed to meet fire safety standards, according to the FSD. Some 116 out of 2,410 issued fire hazard abatement notices have been complied with since February.

In response to media inquiries, the FSD said it welcomed alternative solutions that met the required standards.

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Operators have previously criticised regulations for being too harsh, as costs to dismantle structures and rebuild them to comply with fire safety standards would be too high to bear.

For RedBox Storage, rearranging the storage layout and replacing doors that would not hinder rescue operations is estimated to cost up to HK$20 million and take more than a year to implement.

Customers’ possessions would have to be relocated during renovations and prices would increase up to 30 per cent as a result of the modifications, RedBox Storage’s chief operation officer Oliver Leung Wing-hong said, adding that he hoped the government would consider subsidising their costs.

Kevin Chan, chairman of Store Friendly Self Storage Group which operates 100 stores, said there had yet to be an estimate cost since alterations would vary at each specific location. He, however, agreed that the costs would be sustainable and acceptable for his business.

Going forward, the SSAA said they hoped an inter-departmental government task force would be set up between the FSD, the Buildings Department and Lands Department to streamline discussion and processes for a possible licensing scheme and regulating the industry.