AUST – HENDRY disability access consultants advise that recent moves to improve the commonality of the disability access provisions for buildings in the Building Code of Australia  (BCA) and the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 have substantially harmonised the BCA with the Disability Discrimination Act. As a result, the integration of the disability access code with the BCA carries significant implications for building owners, tenants, and property and facility managers.

The Premises Standards contain detailed disability access information specifying the circumstances and types of building where the Standards apply, and they apply to a new building, a new part of an existing building, and the affected part of an existing building.

Disability Access Terminology

For disability access, the affected part of a building means:

  • the principal pedestrian entrance of an existing building that contains a new part and
  • any part of an existing building that contains a new part, that is necessary to provide a continuous accessible path of travel from the entrance to the new part.

Generally speaking, the affected part of a building must comply with the new access requirements where alterations and/or additions are proposed to an existing building, and the proposed work is subject to a building permit/complying development certificate or a construction certificate/building permit.

The affected part of the building, relative to disability access,  does not apply to:

  • existing parts of buildings outside the area of the new work and the affected part upgrade
  • an accessway from the allotment boundary, from any accessible car parking space on the allotment or between other buildings on the allotment.

Upgrading works for an affected part may include the following disability access works:

  • accessibility of upper floors to new work
  • providing lift access features such as Braille or tactile buttons
  • signage
  • removing a step at a building entrance
  • upgrading handrails on a ramp
  • minimum width requirements of doorways or passageways, including passing and turning spaces.

When Disability Access Provisions Apply

Lessees submitting an application for approval for the building work to their leased area only, do not need to ensure that the affected part of the building complies with the Premises Standards for disability access.

However, this disability access concession does not apply if the new part is within a building with only one lessee, or where the works include works to other parts of the building. Note that for building owners who make alterations or upgrades to their buildings, the Premises Standards provisions will apply regardless of whether the building is multi-tenanted or not.

The Premises Standards makes some limited disability access concessions to these circumstances. For example, a lift is not required in a building of not more than three storeys, with a floor area of each storey, of not more than 200m².

There are also disability access concessions for existing lifts and disabled persons toilets under certain circumstances, and there is also a general exemption for areas where providing access would be inappropriate because of the purpose for which the area is used, such as a fire lookout tower for example, or to areas that would pose a health or safety risk for people with a disability.

Existing buildings that are not undergoing any alterations or change of use are not required to be upgraded to comply with the BCA disability access provisions. However the existing building could still be the subject of a compliant under the Disability Discrimination Act, and the case made that the building does not meet the general requirements for disability access in accordance with the Premises Standard.

While an application can be made on the grounds of unjustifiable disability access hardship, the extent of documentation that must be submitted with the application, (including financial position and so forth) is likely to make the process a difficult one that will receive serious scrutiny by the applicable State or Territory Appeals authority, and ultimately, unjustifiable hardship may only be conclusively determined by a Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court.

Implications of Disability Access for Buildings Owners and Tenants

These new disability access obligations are likely to create bargaining arrangements in the establishment of commercial leases, and highlight the importance of make-good provisions between building owners (landlords) and tenants in the leasing arrangements.

The circumstances under which these provisions will prevail will in all likelihood be tested going forward, but there is no doubt that the provisions for Disability Access code compliance have been significantly strengthened, and the scope for dispensations significantly curtailed.

These new disability access provisions will ultimately impact on most building owners and tenants, and while full compliance at this point in time may not be the objective, HENDRY Building Surveyors can provide the disability access appraisal necessary to establish your building’s current Disability Access position, and assist you in formulating the strategy and the costings necessary to move progressively toward an acceptable future compliance outcome.

For further information on disability access, call your nearest HENDRY Building Surveyor’s office.

Building Legislation Table

Refer to our Building Legislation table for further information on the building control process.