Commercial Buildings: Stay Compliant, Stay Fire Safe
People are safer when compliance is central. Every building owner is responsible for creating an environment with frequently monitored fire safety rules and a fire safety timetable expert-executed regularly. Here’s everything you need to know about NSW fire reforms: how and why to comply.
In 2000, the NSW Government structured an uncompromising penalty system. To stay fine-free, building owners must make maintenance checks of all fire safety elements installed in the building and get this done three months before the Annual Fire Safety Statement (AFSS) deadline. If you submit even one day late, you face a $500 fine which increases weekly.
Maintain your AFSS certification and fundamental fire safety regulations, streamline anything that interferes, deters, eliminate or harm fire safety sees, fire entryways, fire ways out, or obstruct exits. Make sure you follow fire escape routes regulations and fire door regulations. And if your smoke cautioning system is incompetent, you’ll also be out of pocket. Don’t take the risk – be fire ready.
After a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell apartment building in West London, fire safety legislation came to the forefront. With the focus now on safety, apartment owners need to confront their building’s compliance. The fact is – fire defects in new apartments can remain concealed and evade yearly fire checks.
This global story put the Australian high-rise environment under scrutiny. Owners and tenants keen to confirm their buildings aren’t clad with combustible cladding.
The Story at Home
A Victorian Government audit discovered 51% of the state’s buildings had non-compliant materials, noting two buildings at high risk. And when the NSW Government reviewed 178,000 of the state’s building projects, they found over 1,000 buildings had dangerous cladding.
On the back of these findings, building owners are encouraged to inspect their properties for fire safety, adhering to a 10-point plan. Here are some of the major fire incidents in the last two decades.
In November 2014, the residential Lacrosse Apartments in Melbourne’s Docklands had a serious cladding fire which tore up 13 floors in only 10 minutes. The cause was the non-compliant imported product which mirrored the compliant, Australian-made product. Luckily all 400 residents were evacuated, with the high-pressure sprinkler system heralded as a flame-extinguishing hero.
October 2020 saw 200 people evacuated from Westmead hospital when a fire started due to an electrical fault in the substation of the building’s basement. As smoke billowed from the loading dock, 60 patients were among the evacuees as multiple crews worked to extinguish the blaze.
Bankstown’s Fatal Fire
In September 2012, Connie Zhang died tragically in a fire in a Bankstown apartment block which caused extensive damage and left residents suffering smoke inhalation. A coronial inquest found Connie’s death was preventable had the developer installed a sprinkler system. While not responsible for the blaze itself, systemic failures in fire safety checks and certification led to poor water pressure in fire hydrants and other lax measures. The coroner recommended mandatory sprinkler systems with the government to offset the installation cost and improve safety checks with independent, qualified certifiers.
A Towering Tragedy
The ongoing nightmare of Sydney’s 51-unit Opal Tower is a sage reminder of the importance of compliance. On Christmas Eve 2018, 300 Olympic Park residents were evacuated after cracks appeared on the 10th floor. The Ecove building showed a fault in a support wall, and the building shifted between 1-2 millimetres, affecting apartments from ground to level 35. Since then, more than 500 new defects have emerged: facade, mechanical, hydraulic and fire safety issues. As a result, new building and construction laws came into effect.
The horrific fire in June 2000 at the Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel left fifteen people dead and affected the lives of 50 others. While the fire was a criminal act, a report exposed factors like the disabled fire alarm, malfunctioning exit signs, and window security bars that contributed to the tragedy. In reaction, the government implemented changes to the minimum standard of building fire safety and a system of testing, maintenance, and auditing.
Commercial Building Fires
It’s easy to assume commercial building fires are rare, but between 2004-2013, these fires caused 65 deaths, 1,425 injuries and racked up a damage bill nearing 2.5 billion dollars. Here are some facets that contribute to these fires.
When it comes to building fires – time matters. In an office context, fire is most likely to occur during work hours, peaking between 3-6pm. Fires are 31% less likely to occur outside the working hours of 7pm-7am, and are very rare on the weekend.
29.3% of non-residential building fires are related to cooking equipment. Even though they don’t cause extensive damage, these fires are preventable using fire alarms and extinguishers. Small measures for significant safety results.
Unbelievably, at 10%, the second most non-residential fires were started intentionally, causing the most damage, injury and fatality. These fires start between 3pm and midnight in garbage bins, bathrooms, and open areas.
9.2% of commercial fires are the result of human error. Situations include accidentally leaving a heater on, not disposing of a cigarette correctly or using one extension cord to plug in too many things.
These make up 9% of commercial building fires. The best way to counteract these dangers is to frequently inspect central heating units, fireplaces, water heaters, and other heating systems and appliances. And distance flammable materials and furniture from sources of heat, particularly during the winter months.
Suppress and Protect
Passive fire safety systems such as non-combustible building elements and protective coverings perform without altering their state when initially exposed to fire. Active fire safety systems, like smoke alarms and sprinkler systems, activate at the detection of heat, smoke or specific gases, or they’re used manually to actively suppress a fire.
Usually small and contained, cooking fires can be kept at bay by a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. This simple measure gives people the ability to stop these fires from spreading but ensure you train occupants in the use of multiple extinguishers.
Fire alarms are often forgotten, left with dead batteries or not maintained. An alarm system is mandatory and can save lives and stop property damage. As well as a fire alarm, a commercial alarm system protects against intentional fires by detecting suspicious activity after hours when the building is most at risk. Sensor lights deter too.
A sprinkler system can extinguish dangerous fires; just one or two fire sprinkler heads can contain most fires. These watery wonders preserve life and property by reducing the heat of gasses and synthetic materials. They also give firefighters more time to douse the flames.
Maintenance is Everything
Check your building for expired fire extinguishers and make sure you comply with your local fire code for state requirements for regular testing. Remember to set up frequent inspections. Try our five steps to fire compliance, and we’ve got some expert compliance tips up our sleeve too.
Most fires occur in apartments, with cooking fires at the top of the list. These stay confined to where they start, and fatalities are rare. Sleeping and lounge areas are another common place for fires to occur. Often containing bedding and soft furnishings – this is where the most deaths happen. Offices are where the second most building fires happen, with electrical faults and lighting fixtures the main culprits. The subsequent order of building kinds affected by fire are shops, car parks and warehouses storage, industrial and manufacturing factories, health care and assembly buildings.
Less than half of building occupants know what to do and where to go during an emergency. They also can’t operate a fire extinguisher. When tested, less than a quarter know where the nearest extinguisher is without having to hunt around. Inaccurate use of an extinguisher can be dangerous, which is significant given over 50% of people incorrectly operate an extinguisher. In comparison, only 13% are aware they need to use different types of extinguishers on different classes of fire.
The promising fact is, quick application of the correct fire extinguisher puts out 95% of all fires. Readily found in workplaces, fire extinguishers are quick and easy to use. Annual evacuation exercises give occupants confidence to exercise emergency actions. After attending a basic training session and operating a fire extinguisher on a real fire – over 90% correctly used the extinguisher on their second attempt. 33% were more effective in putting it out.
With every new building, a fire safety certificate is issued by or on behalf of the owner(s). This document confirms all relevant fire safety measures have been installed and checked by a qualified person who upholds that these measures perform to the minimum standard.
In 2017, the NSW Government introduced reforms to fire safety certification for new and existing buildings to increase exactness and verification in the design, approval, construction and maintenance phases. In 2020, the government applied legislative changes, such as requiring accredited practitioners (fire safety).
The statement verifies an accredited practitioner (fire safety) has assessed, inspected and verified the performance of each fire safety measure that applies to the building. Annual fire safety statements, including all essential measures relevant to each building, must be issued yearly. It also affirms an accredited practitioner (fire safety) has inspected and confirmed the exit systems comply with the Regulation. Supplementary fire safety statements are issued more regularly, as specified in the fire safety schedule and apply to critical measures relevant to a building.
Fire safety statements need to be issued using a Government standard template form. For statements issued on or after 1 March 2021, use Version 3.1 of the template form. Check for subsequent template updates, and reference frequently asked questions for a high-level overview.
This person must complete certain specialist fire safety assessment functions required by the Regulation. Previously known as competent fire safety practitioners, only practitioners accredited by the FPAA can perform the functions of an accredited practitioner (fire safety).
For fire safety functions with no FPAA accredited practitioners, building owners or certifiers can determine that a person is an accredited practitioner (fire safety). There’s a guide for building owners and a guide for building certifiers. The fire safety practitioner page of NSW Fair Trading has further information.
Specialist Fire Services
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