QLD – Essential Property Services provides this overview of the Queensland building legislation applicable to prescribed fire safety installations (essential safety measures) under the Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008 (BFSR) and AS 1851-2005 ‘Maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment’ (AS 1851). This article enables building owners and managers to appreciate where statutory obligations reside.
The introduction of the BFSR in July 2008 combined with the adoption of AS 1851 in 2006 in Queensland has substantially altered previously accepted fire safety standards and regulations. Queensland now has one of the most challenging environments for building owners, facility managers and maintenance contractors to do business in a compliant manner. It should now be recognised that Queensland possibly has the most strict fire safety compliance standards of any State in Australia since adopting the much discussed AS 1851 as the minimum standard, and the subsequent introduction of the BFSR.
Having now modelled the mandatory reporting provisions of the BFSR in the theme of AS 1851, it would seem that Queensland may be leading the way forward to a nationally accepted essential safety measures maintenance and reporting benchmark.
The introduction of the BFSR was a result of the Department of Emergency Services (DES) completion of a review of the Building Fire Safety Regulation 1991 and a draft of the proposed replacement regulation was prepared and made available for public comment in June 2007. The regulation as developed is subordinate to the Building Act 1975, the Fire and Rescue Service Act 1990, the Queensland Building Services Authority Act 1991 and the State Penalties Enforcement Act 1999. The most recent changes represent the second phase of an overall review of fire safety arrangements in Queensland. In general terms the regulation has been expanded and is far more comprehensive in its approach and coverage in respect to building occupant fire safety.
Building owners, managers and occupiers of commercial buildings should make themselves aware of the fundamental and finite provisions of the BFSR, particularly in respect to matters of;
- Occupant egress
- Fire safety management organisation
- Passive fire and smoke containment systems
- Full function system testing
- Mandatory reporting obligations
- Critical defects
The BFSR has wider reaching objectives that include strengthening laws in respect to ensuring safe egress from buildings and the appropriate maintenance of fire safety installations. Relative to the additional requirements of the BFSR, there are additional penalties that can be imposed for non compliance.
BFSR requires occupiers to now take reasonable steps to obtain building approval documents such as development permits, certificates of classification or fire engineered solutions, or ensure the managing entity of the building does the same on their behalf prior to occupation, with copies kept onsite at all times in a safe location. These documents must be kept with the emergency management plans at all times.
Introduction of new terminology, for example the description of ‘common areas’ or ‘managing entity’ provides delineation between tenancies and owners/managers/ corporation managers areas of responsibilities, and hence remove some of the previous regulations ambiguity in respect to areas of responsibility.
Technical Changes in Respect to Occupancy and Fire Safety Installation Maintenance
BFSR prohibits the locking of doors on evacuation routes (exit paths) with special exemptions for child care centres and places of lawful custody. These provisions only apply to doors on evacuation routes such as doors on the path of travel from a common area of a building, through a final exit door, to a place of safety outside a building.
An exit door is now to be deemed compliant if it complies with the provisions of the Building Code of Australia Volume 1 Part D. Doors that have locking mechanisms that do not pass this test must be replaced or modified, and are otherwise are deemed illegal. This new regulation now recognizes that the BCA sets the building standard.
New requirements legislate against unauthorised modification to evacuation routes such as the installation of non approved mechanical ventilation systems, holding open of fire doors and smoke doors, or failing to seal holes around service penetrations in a wall of a fire isolated passage or compartment. These requirements make it mandatory for building owners, facility managers or occupiers to repair deficiencies in fire resisting construction within specific time frames.
Maintenance & Reporting
Under the provisions of the BFSR the previously mandatory “Certificate of Maintenance” has been repealed. A revised version of the “Record of Maintenance” is now required to be submitted to the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) on an annual basis and must now include specific information of not only maintenance and testing of “Special Fire Services”, but all prescribed “Fire Safety Installations”.
The BFSR Record of Maintenance must include the following details and supportive documentation;
- Details of maintenance and contractors undertaking maintenance works on a fire safety installation in a prescribed format.
- Relevant dates
- Maintenance standards complied with and relevant to the fire safety installation.
- Reasons for non compliance of installed fire safety installations
- Details of repairs to fire safety installations
- Condition reports from maintenance contractors
Supplementary BFSR documentation requirements;
- Statement signed by various contractors verifying the testing and maintenance standards achieved.
- Details of Critical Defect Notices issued by maintenance contractors for a prescribed fire safety installation.
There is now an obligation for maintenance contractors or any person conducting maintenance and/or testing to notify occupiers of critical defects in line with the changes to AS 1851-2005. The definition is: a critical defect is defect in a prescribed fire safety installation for a building that;
- the defect is likely to render the installation inoperable;
- the defect is reasonably likely to have a significant adverse impact on the safety of occupants of part or all of the building if a fire or hazardous materials emergency happens.
Examples of critical defects;
- a defect making a fire detection and alarm system inoperable
- a defect in a pump making the fire hydrants for a building inoperable
Maintenance of Fire Safety Installations
The BFSR now specifically references the whole of AS 1851-2005 (Refer to Schedule 1 BFSR) and prescribes mandatory time frames for rectification works to be undertaken subsequent to inspections by maintenance contractors. Occupiers or responsible parties must ensure that maintenance of each prescribed fire safety installation for the building specified in the BFSR is inspected and tested at intervals in compliance with the relevant current standard for the installation.
If a maintenance report provided by a maintenance contractor or responsible person shows that repair or other corrective action is required for the fire safety installation (or critical defect), the occupier or responsible person of the building must ensure the repair is carried out. The corrective action must be taken no later than 1 month after the inspection was carried out unless the occupier has a reasonable excuse.
If no relevant standard exists for the fire safety installation, maintenance should be undertaken in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations governing the maintenance of the fire safety installation, in a way that is consistent with the recommendations, or in a way that is reasonably appropriate in the interests of safety.
Evacuation Plans and Fire Safety Advisors
Evacuation plans for a building must now include:
- Details of the persons responsible for developing, changing and reviewing the plan, for example, an emergency planning committee established under AS 3745-2010 ‘Planning for emergencies in facilities’ or a manager whose responsibilities include the safety of building occupants.
- The name of the fire safety advisor for the building.
- Examples of procedures for ensuring that fire and evacuation instructions are given – included to assist compliance
The BFSR now includes an extensive list of examples of alternative solutions management and occupation/ usage conditions to ensure that the requirement for such conditions to be included in Fire and Evacuation Plans, are comprehended.
There is now express obligation on the building owner to coordinate the evacuation requirements for the whole building (for example making sure that the evacuation plans for separate occupancies are integrated with the whole of building plan and that the whole building undertake appropriate evacuation practice). BFSR requires that the managing entity (the entity responsible for the general access areas of a building, (for example the corporation manager or centre manager) ensures that the whole of building evacuation plan takes into account the evacuation plans of separate tenants (called secondary occupiers). BFSR also requires that secondary occupiers ensure that their plans are consistent with the whole of building plan, and that primary and secondary occupiers notify each other of any changes to the evacuation plan including evacuation signs.
Fire Safety Advisors
In accordance with BFSR the occupier of a high occupancy building/s (typically commercial buildings accommodating 30 or more people and other types) must now appoint a person who holds a current building fire safety qualification (who understands AS 1851, fire safety installations and critical defects) in the field of fire, evacuation fire procedures and emergency organisation as the designated fire safety advisor for the building.
After commencement of the requirements the occupier or responsible entity will not be required to appoint a fire safety advisor for the building until 1 month after the commencement of occupation of the building. Not withstanding this, it should be noted that occupiers are also currently responsible for ensuring employees have been given adequate evacuation instructions within 2 days of starting work in a building.
Occupiers should check perspective safety advisors qualifications. The curriculum for the course has been developed by the QFRS and further developed and delivered by a Registered Training Organisation approved by the QFRS, with a recertification required every 3 years.
Other requirements for high occupancy building occupation and fire safety advisors include;
- Any evacuation instructions that are given by a registered training organisation.
- That the Fire safety advisor engaged must be familiar with the evacuation coordination procedures specific to the building, and gives the evacuation coordination instructions or arranges for the instructions to be given, by a suitable person who is also familiar with the site and the prescribed fire safety installations.
(This reduces the chance of errors in instruction issued from remote offices by a person who has never visited the building).
Occupancy Limits for Buildings
The BFSR sets out the occupancy safety factors, such as the density and available exit width that are to be taken into account in calculating maximum occupancy limits. Occupancy limit obligations in the regulation apply to all buildings except special use or some licensed premises (for example nightclubs) where the QFRS has issued a special notice to apply more stringent occupancy controls. Occupiers are to ensure that the number of persons in a building at any one time does not present an unreasonable risk to any person in the building. In short, the provision is designed to prevent overcrowding.
The regulation commenced on 1 July 2008 with transitional provisions for some of the new requirements. Existing occupancies had until 1 July 2009 to appoint and train a Fire Safety Advisor. Occupiers have 12 months in which to obtain relevant approval documents for the building and primary and secondary occupiers to integrate their fire and evacuation plans in multi-tenanted buildings. Additional transitional provisions also apply.
This article covers some of the changes to BFSR affecting the overall fire safety environment under AS 1851 in Queensland and is intended as an overview of compliance obligations only. Commercial building owners, managers and occupiers should seek advice and keep up to date with changes to the statutory environment to avoid litigation and penalties in the case of a fire or hazardous goods emergency and non performance of compliance maintenance (critical defects) in their buildings.
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