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The Jamaica National Building Code

The Jamaica National Building Code
Noel C. daCosta BSc, MASc, MBA, ACII

When I was honored to serve as President of the Jamaica Institution of Engineers (JIE) in 2002, some of my colleagues suggested that it would be a good idea to do something constructive about establishing an up-to-date building code for Jamaica.

This was against the background that the extant legally enforceable code was published in 1908. An updated code was published in 1983 as a policy document but was not legally enforceable and the Caribbean Uniform Building Code (CUBiC), produced by a group of Caribbean engineers in 1985, was used by fewer than half the practitioners in Jamaica andalso was not legally enforceable. The Jamaica Bureau of Standards (BSJ) began a national review in 1991 based on the six volumes of the CUBiC, but the effort was abandoned in 2000 for lack of funding and leadership. The result was that we were using several different codes, some obviously well past their “use-by” date.

Laying the Groundwork

When I started the project I thought that writing a new code would merely mean completing the work started by the BSJ. Soon, however, the question of maintaining the code loomed large. One suggestion offered at a stakeholders meeting was that we base our code on a document that is updated on a regular basis. This led to the decision to use an existing model building code as the base and to write a corresponding “Application Document” that would integrate local parameters, values and worthwhile cultural practices. The International Building Code (IBC) was ultimately selected because of the attentiongiven to safety issues related to earthquakes and hurricanes, two natural hazards that occur frequently in Jamaica, and because it is updated every three years. Mutual building societies and mortgage banks generously contributed the startup funding (one would have thought that enlightened self-interest would have encouraged the general insurance and banking institutions that are integrally involved in the building industry to assist, but regrettably that was not the case). With assurances of less than 10 percent of the anticipated project costs identified, I took a leap of faith and engaged a code consultant to commence the work. The International Code Council helped by donating several sets of the 2003 International Codes with which to commence our work.

We began by selecting five codes which we thought would cover our requirements. Before long, however, we determined that the close interrelatedness of the family of Codes meant that we would actually need to go through eleven of the codes in detail. Although this would significantly increase the duration and cost of the project, we forged ahead believing we would finish with a better and more complete document.

Ongoing Progress

In 2005, severe flooding caused by tropical storms and hurricanes prompted widespread calls in Jamaica for an appropriate building code, and this along with other developments encouraged the BSJ to put some funding into our project. This support came at a propitious time because the work was slowing down due to our inability to purchase the necessary hazard maps and other materials to continue moving forward.

More recently, the steering committee established a subcommittee to address education and training. So far, this subcommittee has facilitated an arrangement between the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) and ICC whereby UTech can deliver certified and noncertified Code Council courses, and a course for code trainers organized in Miami in collaboration with ICC was attended by eighteen participants from UTech, JIE and Jamaican local government authorities.

Throughout the project we have been mindful that without the legal underpinning of a National Building Act the work we are doing could suffer the same fate as the 1983 code and be unenforceable. To avert that outcome, we hired a legal consultant to draft the required documents in parallel with our engineering work. We have since learned that the Chief Parliamentary Counsel—who is responsible for drafting laws—is reluctant to use the work of others, but we are hoping that our efforts will not be in vain. At this writing, the cabinet submission to the Ministry of Local Government and Environment to start the process has regrettably not yet been approved. Considered along with the current ten-year queue to get laws passed in Jamaica, the situation requires some special intervention.

In any case, the IBC is already starting to be used in Jamaica along with an Application Document. The document provides alternate compliance paths when appropriate, local hazard data and allowances for local practices. Application Documents have also been developed for the other I-Codes selected for use, and all eleven are to be promulgated into mandatory national standards under a proposed act that would establish a Jamaica National Building Code comprising the IBC and its Application Document.


The simple, fundamental fact is that the enforcement of appropriate building codes is necessary to ensure public safety. It is therefore essential that the code have the force of law behind it.

Over the past six years I have learned that the agendas of international funding agencies are not always aligned with what is appropriate for a particular country. The built environment represents a significant percentage of a nation’s wealth. Close to home we saw how a single event, Hurricane Ivan, wiped out the building stock of Grenada and profoundly impacted the country’s GDP for many years. In addition, many tour operators are now enquiring about the safety aspects of hotels—including the building codes used for their construction— and reinsurers are becoming more insistent that potential risks to the buildings they cover are mitigated by appropriate codes and standards. Yet although my associates and I spent hundreds of hours writing funding proposals, the agencies who responded indicated that they would only fund regional projects. It is my reasoned opinion that the entire Caribbean area would have been much further along towards having a regional building code if Jamaica would have been considered as a pilot project and funded accordingly. Nonetheless, support from the private sector allowed us to start our project and now others are seeking to learn from us.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that true professionals contribute to the improvement of their profession and the betterment of their society without thought of personal gain. Over 100 professionals including engineers, architects, contractors, administrators and others contributed countless hours to participate in meetings and working on Application Documents. We even had overseas Jamaican professionals participating by email.

I wish to take this opportunity to publicly salute all of those public-spirited professionals and thank them most sincerely for their tremendous contributions.
Noel C. daCosta, BSc, MASc, MBA, ACII,
is a partner in the engineering firm Jentech
Consultants Ltd. and a director of Jamaica
Engineering & Technical Services Ltd. and
Geotech Exploration Services Ltd. He is a
registered engineer in Jamaica and a chartered
engineer in the UK, and also a Fellow of
both the Jamaica Institution of Engineers, the
Institution of Chemical Engineers (UK). He is
also the Chairman of United Way of Jamaica.

Genesis of a Regional Contractors Association

KINGSTON, Jamaica – The contractors associations of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Dominica have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to form the Coalition of Caribbean Contractors Association. Presently sitting on the organization’s steering committee are presidents of the various regional associations Ronald Cooper (Jamaica), Achal Moorjani (Barbados), Mikey Jospeh (T&T), and Stuart Parris (Dominica’s immediate past President). According to Cooper, the  committee’s chairman, the coalition was formed with the objective to protect and promote the region’s construction industry and facilitate corporation between Caribbean contractors as well as to provide a lobby at the level of CARICOM.

Secretary-treasurer of the association, Mikey Joseph compares the new association to CSME. He says that one of the most prominent characteristic of the association is to enable contractors from around the region to freely operate in any island without having to immobilize mass amounts of resources. Both presidents have indicated that once the coalition is fully operational there will be funding available for the strengthening of institutions, training, etc. Once accessed, this funding is anticipated to work in tandem to bring the entire regional construction sector to a higher standard of performance through a combination of business interest and industry development.

Cooper further stated that since the organization’s inception there have been a few joint venture initiatives in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago as well as between Jamaica and Barbados. The next step for the coalition will be the establishment of a secretariat as well as an invitation to all interested regional associations to sign the MOU. Other countries which have expressed interest in the coalition are Bahamas, Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada. The Coalition of Caribbean Contractors Association is hoping to meet again in Jamaica between June and July.

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Jamaica’s Renewable Energy Website

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Since its inception on April 24th, the Caribbean Information Platform on Renewable Energy (CIPORE) has received thousands of hits. The website ( is a communication portal for the exchange of renewable energy information for the region. Launched by the Scientific Research Council (SRC) in Jamaica, is available in the four major languages of the Caribbean; French, Spanish, English and Dutch. The platform includes an information centre with articles and speeches on renewable energy, a projects database, legislation, statistics and an energy calculator.

There is also a communications centre which features a directory, forums, chat rooms and access to host live meetings with up to 20 people online from anywhere in the world. Other features are a demonstration centre, country pages for each participating territory and a news section devoted to renewable energy developments in the region. James Moss-Solomon, Chairman of the Scientific Research Council (SRC), told the media that CIPORE is more than a website; it is a developmental tool which gives a broader view across the region as to what is really happening in relation to renewable energy.

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