AUST – Work Place Safety Assessors advise that some property owners, managers and tenants of factories and warehouses are coming to grief by not being aware of “occupancy of excessive hazard” under the Building Code of Australia. Questions are raised by building control authorities, insurance companies and representatives of an aggrieved party when it becomes apparent that specific warehouse/ factory uses may be unauthorised or where insufficient fire protection is installed, cause the building to be an occupancy of excessive hazard.

Building Code of Australia: Occupancy Of Excessive Hazard

Contained in the Building Code of Australia in Section E is Table E1.5, which has requirements for sprinkler system installation in buildings. Normally this table is used by engineers and architects when designing a factory or warehouse. Sometimes to save on capital cost a developer instructs the architect that the building will be occupied by a “low hazard occupancy”. Therefore the building is designed and constructed with reduced active fire services as allowed for by its intended use under the Building Code of Australia. Subsequently when the building is occupied an owner can be left open to question as to whether the building complies with the regulations of the day for the current use or occupation if that use comes under the occupancy of excessive hazard.

Questions on the validity of occupation occupancy of excessive hazard arise due to:

  • A tenant being advised that the building can be used as a certain type of factory or warehouse and subsequently finds out it cannot.
  • A new or existing tenant questioning the validity of the standard of the sprinkler system installed given the use of the building.
  • Proposed alterations to the building.
  • A visit by the Council/ Municipal building surveyor.
  • An occurrence of fire in the building.
  • A workcover claim exposing inadequacies.
  • A risk management consultant visiting the building (representing the owner, tenant or insurance company).
  • A tenant increasing the risk due to processes or chemical storage.

Sprinkler Systems

In considering whether the Building Code of Australia requires a sprinkler system (and to what standard) to be installed in a building, a determination under Table E1.5 ‘occupancy of excessive hazard’ must be made by the building surveyor, and the following is taken into account:

  • Is the building oversized?
  • Is the building of excessive hazard by virtue of its size (volume/ area), its use and contents.

The volume, area, use and contents of a building are all assessed via tables contained in the Building Code of Australia which result in limitations for occupation. To exceed these limits will require a sprinkler system to be installed.

Table E1.5 of the Building Code of Australia advises that an “Occupancy of Excessive Hazard” comprise buildings which contain:

Hazardous processes or storage including the following (varies for Victoria):

  1. Aircraft hangars.
  2. Cane furnishing manufacture, processing and storage.
  3. Fire-lighter and fireworks manufacture and warehousing.
  4. Foam plastic and foam plastic goods manufacture, processing and warehousing, e.g. furniture factory.
  5. Hydrocarbon based sheet product, manufacture, processing and warehousing, e.g. vinyl floor coverings.
  6. Woodwool and other flammable loose fibrous material manufacture.

Combustible goods with an aggregate volume exceeding 1,000m³ (2,000m³ for Victoria) – stored to a height greater than 4m such as the following (varies for Victoria):

  1. Aerosol packs with flammable contents.
  2. Carpets and clothing.
  3. Electrical appliances.
  4. Combustible compressed fibreboards (low and high density) and plywoods.
  5. Combustible cartons, irrespective of content.
  6. Esparto and other fibrous combustible material.
  7. Furniture including timber, cane and composite, where foamed rubber or plastics are incorporated.
  8. Paper storage (all forms of new or waste) e.g. bales, sheet, horizontal or vertical rolls, waxed coated or processed.
  9. Textiles raw and finished, e.g. rolled cloth, clothing and manchester.
  10. Timber storage including sheets, planks, boards, joists and cit sizes.
  11. Vinyl, plastic, foamed plastic, rubber and other combustible sheets, off-cuts and random pieces and rolled material storage, e.g. carpet, tar paper, linoleum, wood veneer and foam mattresses.
  12. All materials having wrappings or preformed containers of foamed plastics.

In summary, an Occupancy of Excessive Hazard under the Building Code of Australia is a building typically (factory/ warehouse use) which exceeds 2,000m² or 12,000m³ and has a use or part of which falls into the above table.

Work Health Safety Legislation

Refer to our Work Health Safety Legislation table for further information on the building control process.