Businesses complain fire safety rules too tough

By Duc Minh   April 6, 2023 | 08:15 pm PT
Businesses complain fire safety rules too tough
Closure announcement of An Khanh ward (HCMC) people's committee outside a karaoke bar on Tran Nao street in March 2023 due to not meeting fire safety requirements. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Enterprises are calling on the government to loosen fire safety regulations, which they say are unrealistic and a hindrance to doing business.

The regulations, which have been tightened after the fire at An Phu karaoke bar in Binh Duong in September 2022 killed 33 people, are too hard to comply with, according to businesses.

The Private Economic Development Research Board cited an example: the need for factory steel columns to be covered with fireproof paint. It pointed out there is no such paint available in the Vietnamese market.

Obtaining a license for fireproof items like construction materials is another hassle businesses have to deal with under the new safety regime.

Only two institutions are now authorized to issue them, both in Hanoi: the University of Fire Fighting and Prevention and Institute for Building Science and Technology.

This means businesses in the south have to send samples to Hanoi for testing, which evidently involves a lot of time and cost. Previously it was done locally.

Besides new tightened regulations from the end of 2022, some old requirements also created difficulties for businesses. For example, the minimum distance requirement of nine to 15 meters between buildings -- depending on the nature of the business -- to ensure fire safety is also difficult to fulfill in urban areas like Hanoi and HCMC.

In Dong Nai, a province with 30 industrial zones and 1.2 million workers, almost all manufacturing and other businesses have been affected.

A Dong Nai business that asked not to be identified said it built a three-story warehouse and office last year to expand, but they have been unable to get approval due to lack of fireproof paint for the steel truss on top of the warehouse.

Fabric manufacturer Hyosung Vietnam, a Korean company that has been making big investments in Dong Nai, said since the end of 2022 it has been taking a long time to receive a fire safety certificate.

"We don’t know how long it will take for our documents to be approved, and we are in a pinch with our production expansion plans," a spokesperson said.

Another major foreign investor, Taiwan’s Foxconn, also complained that many of its facilities have not passed fire safety inspections in the last two years.

"We have many investment plans in Vietnam for two years, so such a procedure will make expansion difficult," a Foxconn representative said in a recent meeting with the Ministry of Planning and Investment. Foxconn is a major supplier for Apple, investing in factories in northern provinces such as Bac Ninh and Bac Giang.

Earlier this year hundreds of karaoke bars in Hanoi and HCMC had to close since they could not meet the new fire safety standards.

At the end of last year the Japanese Business Association of HCMC sent a petition to Minister of Public Security To Lam for easing fire safety regulations, saying 18 projects worth a total of nearly VND3.1 trillion ($132.1 million) had been delayed.

Many firms are awaiting inspection and approval and have had to stop operation. Besides, all renovations and repairs, no matter how small, have to be inspected and approved.

A Dong Nai-based business said: "The economic situation is very stressful, and if there is no road map for tightening fire safety measures, businesses will be exhausted."

Do Minh Tuan, chairman of the Thanh Hoa Province people's committee, said 99% of businesses, not to mention offices, schools, hospitals, and others would fail to meet the new requirements.

So only those guilty of serious violations of safety norms should be required to stop operations and the rest should be given a road map to gradually remedy things, he added.

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