A NEW fire safety law will be submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC) for approval by March next year, say senior fire officers in China. The Fire Safety Law of the People's Republic of China, which has been revised eight times, will be put before the NPC Standing Committee and replace the existing fire safety regulation, said Major-General Liu Shipu, director of the Fire Department of the Ministry of Public Security. Speaking to the Sunday Morning Post, General Liu said the new law would include specific penalty for individual offences in a bid to improve fire safety in both official and private premises. In addition to fines, violators could be given administrative punishments and serious offenders will face criminal charges. Penalties for business proprietors found guilty under the new law range from imprisonment to enforced closure of the business. The new legislation applies to all businesses - state firms or foreign-owned companies as well as township factories. Under the existing regulations, maximum penalty for violators in small fires is about 500 yuan (HK$465) administrative fines and most cases are being handled by the local governments without going through the Judiciary. 'The existing regulations have only roughly outlined what fire services officials should do and what power they have,' said General Liu. 'They can no longer cope with the needs of our economy which has been developing at a very fast pace,' he added. The new law will also address the issue of fire accidents in industrial premises. It will lay down fire precaution requirements on building designs and construction materials for factory owners and architects to follow. According to Deputy Director Sun Lun, the new law would require the Government to install adequate fire fighting facilities such as fire stations, fire hydrants on the street and up-to-date communication equipment. Although the law is expected to be passed by the NPC in March, Mr Sun said it will become effective by the end of next year and regional people's congresses will be required to draft their own supplementary legislation. Both officers said the major problems fire fighters in China faced were outdated fire control facilities, poor law enforcement and a lack of public awareness. To raise public awareness, the authorities last week started a nationwide fire-safety campaign and recently released a directive requiring all regional governments to step up their fire-safety education. In addition, regional governments this year have increased their budgets on fire fighting by an average of more than 20 per cent. But Zhong Jiaorong, Deputy Director of Guangdong Public Security and Fire Protection, said that fire safety consciousness among factory workers in the province remained very low.