Significant Fire Safety Reform in NSW calls for competent fire safety practitioners

March 2017

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The NSW Government is proposing substantial structural changes to the process of fire services design and commercial building certification. The changes are not cosmetic – they will affect what is documented for approval, designer suitability and involve more inspections and accountability for sign off at completion.

The proposed changes have not simply copied other states by licencing most designers and installers, but seek to target fire safety components to achieve better quality design, approvals and completed construction.

There is little doubt that for parts of the industry, the fire safety reforms proposed for New South Wales will take more time to document, approve and inspect. If carefully implemented, monitored and improved over the next couple of years, we at Philip Chun are optimistic that the changes will improve accountability for completed works and the quality of installed fire services in buildings.

This will replace the current situation in New South Wales, where there are little or no controls over who designs or installs most of the fire safety systems in commercial buildings. 

For example, the person who installed your home theatre system may well have installed the smoke detection system in the high rise building you work in – because none of this work requires a licensed electrician.

Industry bodies that represent Accredited Certifiers have been asking for change in this area for many years. Accredited Certifiers regularly face refusal by contractors to provide a copy of their license for fire safety installation and even some of the largest international companies only provide their qualifications and CVs to a certifier with bitter resentment. The proposed changes will address this ‘cartel’ type situation.

The state government’s carefully crafted proposal should be a game changer if carefully implemented and policed. We have summarised the proposed changes (to legislation NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000) and provided some comments below.

1. Involvement of competent fire safety practitioners in certain specialist fire safety functions
Some of the proposed reforms require the use of a ‘competent fire safety practitioner’ (see point 2 below) and as such, the NSW Government is aiming to (i) clarify what it means to be a competent fire safety practitioner and (ii) create a co-regulatory accreditation framework, which recognises industry bodies and their accreditation schemes (that cover the fire safety functions that require a competent fire safety practitioner).

2. Submission of plans and specifications for relevant fire safety system work relating to class 2 – 9 buildings
Before the installation, extension or modification of relevant fire safety systems, the new regulation will require plans and specifications for fire safety system work to be endorsed (as compliant with relevant requirements) by a competent fire safety practitioner and submitted to the certifying authority. We at Philip Chun have recommended to the state government that this should be prior to approval; otherwise it could be abused and ignored by some.

3. Limited exemptions from compliance with some Building Code of Australia standards relating to relevant fire safety system work
The proposed regulation will provide some flexibility around minor relevant fire safety system work associated with alterations and additions to existing buildings. We have recommended against this in our submission to the NSW Government, as we believe this will result in ‘a race to the bottom’ in terms of quality, as has been seen in Victoria.

4. New critical stage inspections for Class 2 – 9 buildings
Two new critical stage inspections are proposed to the list of inspections under clause 162A of the regulation for Class 2-9 buildings. These relate to the fire rating of services penetrations and inspection of fire rated walls prior to covering.

5. New inspections of fire safety system work relating to Class 2 and 3 buildings by Fire and Rescue NSW before occupation certificates are issued
It is proposed that the Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW’s) current inspection role be expanded, whereby the FRNSW would have the discretion to inspect and assess fire safety system work relating to multi-unit residential (Class 2 and 3) buildings (where there is an installation, extension or modification of a relevant fire safety systems). While this will increase costs and in some cases delay the issue of occupation certification, developers who choose their designers and installers for their thoroughness rather than just their fee, should have far less trouble completing and handing over their buildings. The potential issues are seen to be:

  • in the capability of FRNSW to resource their increased role and be consistent in their reporting.
  • as the inspection will apply to new work to existing buildings, the temptation to require a fire system upgrade as part of the inspection report and going beyond the scope of the new work could have great implications for building owners. 

6. Submission of an Alternative (Performance) Solution report for all fire safety Alternative Solutions for Class 1b – 9 buildings
The proposed regulation will require a report to be submitted to the certifying authority for endorsement for all fire safety Alternative Solutions that apply to a Class 1b to 9 building development. The complying development certificate or construction certificate would not be able to be issued without this report and the certifier’s endorsement. This means those in the industry (architects, builders, project managers) will be working with competent fire safety practitioners in the near future.

7. Fire safety certificates and statements to be in a form approved by the Secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment
The new regulation will require the principal certifying authority (PCA) to be satisfied that all accepted fire safety Alternative Solutions have been constructed or installed in accordance with the associated Alternative Solution Reports. While this requirement is consistent with the existing responsibility of the PCA, the new regulation will clarify the PCA’s responsibility on Alternative Solutions. There is some concern that this crosses the line where Accredited Certifiers move from being an independent public authority, to that of a certifier of construction components. Submissions have been made to state government regarding these concerns.

The NSW Government is now reviewing stakeholder feedback on the draft regulation changes. The regulation is expected to be finalised later this year.

For further information on the regulation changes contact Rod Shepherd rod.shepherd@philipchun.com or go to DOWNLOAD PDF.

This story is intended to provide general information. It does not constitute advice and should not be treated as such. Should you require advice, please contact our office.

New design standards for residential apartments

12 September 2016

The new Victorian apartment design standards, which will improve development quality, have been released for a final consultation round before being implemented later this year.

The Better Apartment Draft Design Standards address issues raised through a comprehensive consultation process with the community, local government and industry. All new apartments will need to provide adequate daylight, storage, ventilation, energy and waste efficiency and noise minimisation. The design standards also address building setbacks, room depth, accessibility and open space.

Community and industry feedback on the draft standards is open until 19 September 2016.

Design guidance for Victorian apartments is minimal compared to other states. According to the state government, this has resulted in apartments being built that do not meet basic needs such as natural light, fresh air and storage. The lack of standard requirements for internal apartment amenity has resulted in some poor designs and inadequate long-term living environments.

In May last year, the state government released a discussion paper that prompted consultation with the community, local government and industry regarding internal apartment amenity and potential future design. Almost 1700 survey responses and around 150 submissions were received on the discussion paper. Community survey participants ranked the key issues affecting apartment amenity by most to least important – identifying daylight, space, natural ventilation and noise as the top issues. The Better Apartments draft design standards have come about as a result of this consultation process.

Philip Chun Associate, Andrew Urli, said: “These new standards, once implemented, will ensure that new apartments are well designed; the needs of households are met (including the elderly, people with disabilities, and families with children); environmental impacts are minimised; and the effects of climate change are alleviated.”

“The standards will need to be key consideration for developers and architects planning apartment buildings from 2017 and beyond.

“Once the design standards are formalised, I would anticipate a flow on effect with other states likely to update and amend their own guidelines.”

For more information and to provide feedback on the draft standards go to http://haveyoursay.delwp.vic.gov.au/better-apartments

This story is intended to provide general information. It does not constitute advice and should not be treated as such. Should you require advice, please contact our office.