Safety requirements for childcare centres which are above the ground floor in multi-storey buildings could be tightened whilst a concept of ‘complex buildings’ which require greater scrutiny in design and construction could be defined for the first time if a proposed out-of-cycle amendment to the National Construction Code (NCC) is adopted.

The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has released a public comment draft for a proposed out-of-cycle amendment to improve building safety.

Set to be known as NCC 2019 Amendment 1, the proposed amendment aims to improve building fire safety and respond to recommendations from the Building Confidence report prepared for the Building Ministers Forum (BMF) by Professor Peter Shergold and lawyer Bronwyn Weir.

The proposed amendment will include:

  • New requirements to improve the safety of occupants of early childhood learning centres which are not located on the ground level of buildings.
  • A proposed new defined term for ‘building complexity’ that will identify buildings for which increased supervision of design and construction is appropriate through subsequent initiatives being investigated in response to the recommendations of the Building Confidence Report.
  • Provisions that require the creation of a Performance Based Design Brief wherever a performance solution is developed to improve the quality and clarity of such solutions for both approval and auditing purposes. 
  • Amendments that clarify the existing concessions for low-rise Class 2 and 3 buildings.
  • Reference to a new Technical Specification for the permanent labelling of Aluminium Composite Panels (ACPs).

The amendments come partly as a response to the Shergold Weir recommendations.

The creation of the performance based design brief, for example, is a response to Recommendation 14 of the report that jurisdictions set out certain information which must be included within performance solution.

That recommendation followed what the report concluded was a poor standard of documentation which is used to support performance solutions.

Other changes aim to address emerging areas of concern.

The proposed new requirements for early childhood centres which are above the ground floor come as developers are increasingly placing these on higher floors to maximise valuable ground floor space.

This is creating concerns about the evacuation of large numbers of very young children from floors which are above the ground floor in an emergency.

The public comment draft is open for comment until Friday 11 October.

Adoption of the amendment by states and territories is anticipated to take place on 1 June 2020.

Details of main changes

Briefly, the main changes (first three changes only) under the proposed amendment are as follows:

1) New Fire Safety in Early Childhood Learning Centres

As mentioned above, concerns about evacuating young children from early childhood learning centres which are not on the ground floor are growing as an increasing number of these are being built on higher floors.

Accordingly, a key part of the changes involves more stringent fire safety requirements in respect of these centres.

Under the proposed amendment, new requirements will apply to Class 9b early childhood centres which are not within a storey which provides direct egress to road or open space (i.e. they are not on the ground floor).

Under these requirements:

  • The centres themselves will need to be divided into at least two fire compartments – each of which will need to have at least two horizontal exits which are not less than nine meters apart. (DTS provision C2.5 in Part C, Volume One).
  • The entire building will need to have sprinklers throughout (DTS Provision E1.5 of Part E1).
  • The whole building must have smoke detection and alarm systems which comply with Specification E2.2a.

In the case of any Class 9b early childhood centre building (as with Class 9a healthcare buildings and class 9c buildings), at least one exit will need to be provided from every part of a storey which has been divided into fire compartments in accordance with either of DTS provisions C2.2 or C1.5.

2) Defining Building Complexity

Next, the proposed amendment provides a newly defined term for ‘building complexity’.

This will be used to identify buildings for which greater supervision within design and construction is appropriate.

Under proposed definitions in Schedule 3 in the Governing Requirements and Common Schedules, the complexity or otherwise of the building will be determined by a combination of the likelihood of design or construction failure and the likely consequences of any such failure in terms of injury or loss of life.

This is determined by:

  • the number of occupants for which the building is expected to cater
  • the level of vulnerability of those occupants (elderly, disabled, children etc.)
  • whether or not the building is complicated (i.e. is large, structurally complex, constructed using innovative materials or systems or located in a hazardous area).

Specifically, Table 2 of the proposed definition classifies levels ranging from zero to four. Buildings with a rating of zero will require lower levels of supervision. Those with higher ratings will require greater supervision.

According to Table 3 of the definition, typical examples of the most complex buildings needing the highest levels of scrutiny are chemical process plants, hospitals with 24 hour emergency facilities and fire/police stations.

At the other end of the scale, single dwellings, low rise apartments, data centres, low-rise office buildings using conventional concrete frames and small hospice buildings are examples of lower complexity where lower levels of supervision will be required.

In between these, moderate levels of complexity are attached to buildings such as shopping centres, concert halls and conventional high-rise apartments.

3) Requirement for Performance Based Design Briefs

The third main change involves new requirements to prepare a performance based design brief (PBDB) where performance solutions are proposed to be used.

Specifically, a newly inserted provision A2.2(4) in Part A2 of the Governing Requirements will require:

  • Preparation of a PBDB
  • Analysis – including modelling and/or testing – as proposed by the PBDB.
  • Collation and evaluation of results against acceptance criteria which are specified in the PBDB.
  • Preparation of a final report which outlines applicable performance requirements and DTS provisions, assessment methods used, details of above steps and confirmation that the performance requirements have been met.