One of the wood-fired steam health clubs visited during the investigations.

National Building Review Board (NBRB) has issued guidelines on the design, installation, operation and maintenance of biomass -fired health clubs (saunas and steam baths). The guidelines address issues of lack of pressure controls, and temperature monitors, absence of timers, closing of the valve in the steam for pressure buildup and poor air supply and ventilation requirements among others.

According to guidelines all health clubs must have a pressure relief/safety valve, which releases excess pressure beyond the designed system value, pressure and temperature gauges must be marked with green for the low reading and red with the high reading for visibility and a clock/timer shall be visible to users of the facility to ensure they are aware of their usage time.

Other guidelines include providing 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.

While addressing to the media, NBRB’s Executive Secretary Eng. Flavia Bwire revealed that the guidelines are a result of a study commissioned by the Board in 2021 on 21 health clubs in Central, Eastern and Western Uganda. The health clubs were randomly sampled with focus on the steam and sauna heating equipment and all related gear.

The study found out that 90% of the health clubs used fire wood as the source of fuel and that unlike electric type steam baths and saunas which have preinstalled precautionary measures against system overloads, the wood fired ones do not. In terms of risk assessment, it was concluded that for every 10 health clubs, 9 were potentially explosive and required immediate corrective action.

“Many of the designs and installation methods of the wood fired systems were not based on engineering principles but skills obtained on-job. This has resulted in unsafe installations with no monitoring and control mechanisms; and hence increased risks of explosions and fire outbreaks” Eng. Bwire added.

Going forward, the Board has tasked building committees in cities, municipalities and local governments to identify the location of all existing health clubs whose steam baths and sauna heaters are wood fired and ensure that installations that can be retrofitted to achieve safety be done whilst those that cannot be improved, the occupation permit be revoked.  The committees should also ensure that all applications for health club establishments are reviewed with particular scrutiny of the safety provisions in the design and installation.

The Board has also called on owners/developers of wood fired steam baths and saunas to engage professionals to assess the integrity of their installations and submit report to the local authorities for approval.

The owners should further 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.

The issued guidelines are part and do not replace any laws such as the Building Control Act, 2013, the Occupational and Safety Act among others that regulate the built environment.

One of the wood-fired steam health clubs visited during the investigations.

Written by Herbert Zziwa, Manager Communications.