AUST – HENDRY building surveyors report that legislative directions cause a building audit to occur when issued under various Building Acts and Building Regulations around Australia take the form of a building notice, building order or an infringement notice. These legislative directions can be issued by an authority for buildings under construction, or an existing building where no building work are occurring. For example, an authority enforcing an upgrade of an existing building due to poor or non-existent essential safety measure compliance, thus requiring the owner to have a building audit performed to protect their interests.

Private building surveyors or building certifiers are principally empowered to take action for matters relating to building work under their direct control, not existing buildings where no building work is being undertaken. Building surveyors can perform a building audit on behalf of a client.

Building Notices in Relation to Existing Buildings

Although building notices and building orders issued under Acts and Regulations can cover the broad aspect of public health and safety, the following deals with the fire safety aspects only.

Acts and Regulations require that a municipal building surveyor, not a private building surveyor (building certifier) because of the restrictions, can serve a building notice in relation to public safety measure provided in an existing building.

This building notice provides the means by which the municipal building surveyor can require the building owner to show cause why an existing building should not be subject to building work in order to provide a level of public safety which meets with community expectations. The existing building does not have to be upgraded to the same standard as is required for new buildings, in full compliance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

If the owner does not respond satisfactorily to the building notice by undertaking the required works, then the municipal building surveyor in most cases can proceed to issue a building notice/ building order which if not complied with, will incur penalties.

A building poses a danger to the public if as the result of its use, condition and generally its age, it requires an increase in the level of safety provided.

This is done by assessing –

  • Whether a building constitutes an unacceptable degree of danger of life and;
  • The building against life safety expectations which have emerged through technological developments in building control and the current expectations that the community has in relation to public safety.

Buildings may come to the attention of the municipal building surveyor in a number of ways, by way of –

  • A letter of complaint
  • Some insurance companies requesting a fire protection clearance before renewing insurance policies
  • Notification by some other authority
  • Fire-fighters who have been called to a building in the event of a fire or other emergency
  • The municipal building surveyor noticing the condition of the building
  • A request from the owners or occupiers of a building for an assessment of its public safety measures.

Generally it is considered that the following factors need to be adequately addressed so that they contribute to public safety and so not undermine it. The items under these headings have not been listed in any order of priority.

People factors:

  • residential buildings where people sleep
  • large groups of people congregated
  • people unfamiliar with a building
  • people in darkened premises such as theatres, cinemas, etc., whether aged or disabled persons or children are the occupiers
  • the building occupants’ awareness of fire hazard

Inherent building characteristics:

  • timber upper floors
  • open stairs
  • insufficient stairs
  • location and type of exits
  • paths of travel to exits
  • exit signs
  • emergency lighting
  • emergency warning and intercommunication systems
  • integrity of exits
  • smoke hazard management and alarm systems
  • fire detection and suppression systems

Management factors:

  • maintenance regime is established and operating
  • evacuation procedures are established and known to occupants
  • occupants’ level of fire awareness

Statutory requirements:

  • conformity of building with regulations of the day which thereby indicates a level of safety acceptable at that time
  • certificate of occupancy, occupancy permit or certificate of classification
  • building permit, building approval, construction certificate or building license

The following examples provide a list of possible fire safety deficiencies. However, a single item on its own is unlikely to warrant the service of a building notice.

Means of escape:

  • excessive distance of travel to an exit
  • open stairway serving too many levels
  • insufficient stairs
  • locked exits
  • blocked exits and paths of travel to exits
  • exit signs not operating or non-existent
  • emergency lighting not operating or non-existent
  • smoke hazard management systems not in place or not operating satisfactorily
  • alarm systems not operating satisfactorily

Control of smoke and fire spread throughout building:

  • fire detection and suppression systems not operating satisfactorily
  • smoke control systems in place but not operating satisfactorily
  • insufficient fire-rating of walls, floors and ceilings
  • penetrations in fire walls sealed inadequately
  • alarm systems not operating satisfactorily

Devices, appliances and equipment for the suppression of fire:

  • fire hose reels not adequate in number or poorly maintained
  • hydrants inadequate or poorly maintained
  • sprinkler systems both required and non-required are not operating satisfactorily
  • fire alarm detection systems not operating satisfactorily

Management of premises:

  • poor maintenance
  • lack of evacuation procedures
  • faulty electrical wiring, switchboards

A building is unlikely to be considered for a building notice or building order if it –

  • is altered to the regulations of the day and it has been maintained to that standard and any subsequent building work has also been carried out in compliance with the regulations of the day.
  • Generally complies with the Council Guidelines for Dispensation under the Act, Regulations and Building Code of Australia (BCA).

It is important to note that a building need not be brought into full compliance with the BCA. As mentioned earlier, only life safety issues are to be addressed.

It is recommended that all parties engage in open and frank discussions at the earliest stages of negotiations, particularly in order that the building owner is kept fully informed of proceedings and the building surveyors’ attitude, and accordingly able to take appropriate action.

During the negotiations building owners should be kept aware of the right of appeal to the various Building Appeals Boards and Court jurisdictions.

Building Legislation Table

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