Keeping up to date with fire safety standards

By Garry Kwok, National Technical Services Manager at Wormald

Wormald maintenanceFire safety is an important responsibility for any building or property manager.  They must ensure that the correct fire protection equipment and systems are in place.  They must also make sure that any fire protection equipment and systems on site are regularly serviced and kept in proper working order.

With frequent changes to legislation, codes and Standards relating to fire safety, it can be hard to keep up with exactly what your responsibilities are.  In the recent Wormald Business Fire Safety Report, we surveyed 445 business owners and managers from across ANZ about their approach to fire safety.  The survey found that over 30 per cent of respondents rely on their fire protection specialist to keep them up to date.  Here’s a synopsis of a few amendments from the past eighteen months:

Routine maintenance and servicing: There are various State-based fire safety regulations throughout Australia relating to servicing and maintenance.  For example, in New South Wales (NSW), property owners and managers must be aware of the NSW Environmental Planning & Assessment Regulations (2000) which stipulates that all essential fire safety measures must be maintained.  It also requires that an Annual Fire Safety Statement (AFSS) is prepared by a building’s owner or their agent. An AFSS certifies that a building’s fire safety measures are capable of performing as intended to their original design standard.

In December 2012, a newly revised edition of the Australian Standard, AS1851 was released, with a title change to AS1851-2012 “Routine Service of Fire Protection Systems and Equipment“.   AS1851-2012 provides prescribed routine servicing activities for the majority of fire protection systems and equipment.  This includes inspection, testing, preventative maintenance and survey activities and helps to ensure that the systems and equipment are kept in proper working order.

AS1851-2012 was developed by industry experts, regulators, government and fire service providers.  The new AS1851 provides improvements and greater clarity around what is expected from building managers and their service providers.  One of the most significant changes is the reduction in inspections from weekly to monthly.  The revised standard introduces the requirement for ‘baseline data’ to be provided for any fire protection systems and equipment installed.  This provides a benchmark performance level for such equipment and systems that subsequent periodic servicing activities results can be compared.  Requirements relating to passive fire protection have also been substantially revised.

Fire safety training is essential.  Having an appropriate fire protection solution in place is vital but it will have limited impact if building occupants don’t know what to do in the event of an emergency.  Fire prevention plans should be developed in accordance with the Australian Standard, AS 3745 – 2010 Planning for Emergencies in Facilities.   Emergency related training is a vital element of this fire prevention plan.  The Standard outlines the minimum requirements for the development of the emergency plan and also provides direction for the planning and implementation of an effective Emergency Planning Committee, Emergency Control Organisation (ECO) and emergency response procedures.

It’s important to note amendments to AS 3745 which came into effect in late 2011.  These changes make it mandatory for training to be completed by at least one member of the Emergency Planning Committee, for the ECO and for the facility occupants.  Furthermore, ECO members must attend skills retention training every six months.

Fire protection in aged care facilities: There have also been significant changes to fire safety legislation relating to nursing homes and aged care facilities within New South Wales.  As of 1 January 2013 the retrofitting of automatic sprinkler systems became a mandatory requirement in existing facilities throughout New South Wales.  Under the new regulation, operators of Commonwealth accredited aged care facilities have just 18 months to retrofit sprinklers. Operators who are unable to meet that time frame will be given until January 2016 to complete the installation and will be required to submit six-monthly progress reports to the Government’s implementation committee. Many operators are already well advanced in their preparations.

Under the new regulation, operators will need to inform residents, prospective residents and families about whether sprinklers are installed and make progress reports publicly available. Similar requirements already exist in Victoria and Queensland.  The changes to the legislation in NSW are consistent with the Building Code of Australia’s national standard for sprinklers in newly built aged care buildings which has applied since 2002.

Keeping up to date on fire safety standards and regulations is important to ensure your building and its occupants have a high level of protection against fire.  If you’re unsure as to what your responsibilities are, it’s a good idea to speak with a fire protection specialist.

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