The path to change: what it took to create the new Fire Sprinkler Standard AS2118.1 and include it in the National Construction Code

Andrew Lee (suit)

It has been a long and demanding journey towards implementing the recent changes to the AS2118.1 Fire Sprinkler Standard, a process which started nearly 8 years ago. Wormald, through its association with FPA Australia, has been a part of that journey and here we share some details on what it took to implement the changes and have them included in the National Construction Code (NCC).

The AS2118.1 and the NCC
The NCC currently references the 1999 version of the Fire Sprinkler Standard AS2118.1. This means that all buildings in Australia that require a Deemed To Satisfy (DTS) Fire Sprinkler System, must have a system that is designed and installed in accordance with the 1999 version of AS2118.1.

However, the 1999 version was only a minor update to the 1995 version and most of the technology at that time dated back to the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. One saving grace for the 1999 version was the “Special Sprinkler” clause which enabled new technology to be introduced into DTS sprinkler designs by leveraging overseas Standards. The industry has been using this clause over the last 18 years, predominantly for large warehouses where the use of Storage Sprinklers (formally known as ESFR Sprinklers) has long become the norm.

A new version of AS2118.1 was released by Standards Australia in 2006 and an amendment was later released in 2010. Unfortunately, neither of these versions were adopted into the NCC and therefore cannot be used as a DTS system. The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) produce and maintain the NCC and have very strict protocols on how a NCC referenced Standard is structured.

They do not allow a NCC referenced Standard to delegate the design and installation requirements to an overseas authority, the fear being that any changes in overseas Standards would automatically impact our local Australian Standard without any opportunity for the Australian Industry or Regulators to assess any such change.

Back to the drawing board

After rejecting AS2118.1-2006, the ABCB decided to write their own Fire Sprinkler Standard which they had worked on for approximately 3 years. It was then subjected to a Regulatory Impact Statement in 2011 but failed. The project was subsequently scrapped, paving the way for Standards Australia to try to produce a new version.

After a year of preliminary work, the project kicked off in April 2012 with a technical committee consisting of 17 participating members representing 12 separate organisations. These organisations included the ABCB, AFAC, industry association groups representing the insurance industry, the fire protection industry, hydraulics consultants, Engineers Australia and many more.

The committee worked tirelessly at producing a modern version of the Fire Sprinkler Standard that would contain prescriptive requirements for the current day technologies and be structured in a format that complied with the ABCB protocols.

In February 2015, a Public Comment Draft was released which drew more than a thousand comments. These comments were individually considered and many were incorporated into a draft which, in January 2016, was accepted by the ABCB.

Everyone thought that the journey was over but unfortunately there was an unexpected set back.

The AS2118.1 is approved

The Lacrosse Tower fire in Melbourne in November 2014 had resulted in a lot of debate about the installation of sprinklers on balconies of high rise apartment blocks. AS2118.1 had always included a requirement to protect balconies larger than 6m2 and more than 2m deep, however the fire brigades were looking to tighten these requirements. In fact, the State of Victoria changed their legislation to ensure all balconies were protected regardless of what the Sprinkler Standard required. The draft was reviewed again and eventually resolved in July 2017 clearing the way to publish the 2017 version in September of this year.

It was initially hoped that the Standard would be published in time to be referenced by the 2016 version of the National Construction Code, however that was not possible with the committee resigned to the fact that the next opportunity would not be until 2019 as the NCC is only updated every three years. However, to everybody’s surprise the ABCB advised that they were releasing an out of cycle amendment of NCC 2016 to deal with the issue of combustible external wall cladding. Fortunately, they also decided to take the opportunity to reference the new Fire Sprinkler Standard.

The ABCB anticipates that the amended NCC 2016 will be published in March 2018, from which point forward it will reference the AS2118.1-2017 Fire Sprinkler Standard. Wormald’s Sales and Engineering team has worked tirelessly to update themselves on the new changes and are ready to assist clients with implementing the new AS2118.1.

I will be discussing some of the key changes in upcoming blogs.

Click here to read more about Stephen Caple.

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