The National Building Review Board (NBRB), a corporate body established under the Ministry of Works and Transport to monitor all building developments, has issued safety guidelines that must be followed by all saunas and steam baths across the country.
This comes amid rising explosions in the health clubs, which have resulted in serious injuries and deaths.
In a statement issued on Monday, November 6, 2023, NBRB said all saunas and steam baths must have a pressure relief/ safety valve, which releases excess pressure beyond the designed system value.
“The pressure gauges should be marked with green for the low reading and red with the high reading for visibility,” the statement signed by Eng. Flavia G. Bwire, the Executive Secretary of NBRB, reads in part.
According to the Board, a temperature gauge should be installed in the steam room (the sensor within the room with the reading just outside the room) to monitor the temperature and prevent overheating
“The temperature gauge should be marked with green for the low reading and red with the high reading for visibility,” the Board added.
A clock/ timer shall be visible to users of the facility to ensure they are aware of their usage time
“Do not install any stop valves in the steam pipes-the steam can never be obstructed, otherwise the pressure can build up to catastrophic levels,” the statement.
According to the Board, these guidelines were developed following a study that revealed that 90% saunas and steam baths across the country use fire wood as the source of fuel, which do not have preinstalled precautionary measures against system overloads like the electric type ones.
The study also revealed that many of the designs and installation methods of the wood fired systems were not based on engineering principles but skills obtained on-job.
The study was conducted after several fatal incidents in saunas and steam baths. For instance, in September 2019, an explosion occurred at a health club in Naalya, in Kira Municipality in which several people were injured. On July 2, 2021, another explosion occurred at Experience Inn Health Club in Wakiso and claimed 2 lives. Of the two causalities, the operator died on spot, and the other, a client, died 5 days later in hospital due to third degree burns.
“The investigation revealed that the primary cause of this explosion was over-pressure resulting from over-heating water in the steam tank that had no pressure release mechanism. The pressure build-up at the time of the explosion was simulated and found to be 272% of the installed capacity, hence the explosion. This high rise in pressure was associated with an unregulated change in temperature of up to 320 degrees, which was unnecessary, wasteful and catastrophic,” the Board said.
To prevent future incidents, the Board said all health clubs must provide unrestricted fresh air for combustion-either by installing the biomass fired equipment on the outside or if internally, should be provided with adequate ventilation as per National Building code (Mechanical Installations), 2019
Other aspects covered in the guidelines are considerations for lighting, fire detection, firefighting, testing of installations, maintenance requirements and competencies of human resource (developer/employer, equipment operator manager, and equipment operator, maintenance personnel).
Building committees should identify the location of all existing health clubs whose steam baths and sauna heaters are wood fired.
“The installations that can be retrofitted to achieve safety be done whilst those that cannot be improved, the occupation permit be revoked,” the Board said.
Building committees should ensure that all applications for health club establishments are reviewed with particular scrutiny of the safety provisions in the design and installation.
Owners/developers of wood-fired steam baths and saunas should engage professionals to assess the integrity of their installations. The reports should be submitted to the local authority for approval. They should ensure routine maintenance of the installations is carried out and logged for records.
These records should be available for the Building Control Officers and Inspectors from the department of Occupational Health and Safety and should include which areas were serviced.