Australia’s building industry is gearing up for change as new regulations mean that passive fire safety systems are no longer able to rely on tests which were performed using outdated standards.
From 1 September, all passive fire protection systems which are installed on Class 2 buildings (apartment buildings) which are being constructed under NCC 2019 or later will need to have a fire resistance level that has been tested according to tests conducted under the most recent version of the Australian standard for fire testing methods.
John Rakic, owner of Australian passive fire protection systems manufacturer Trafalgar Fire, says the changes are critical.
“These are probably the most significant changes to passive fire protection in the last 50 years and will have a monumental and positive impact,” Rakic said.
“Many systems being sold and installed were fire tested over 30 years ago, and do not provide the requisite protection that modern buildings deserve.”
Around Australia, fire safety within buildings has gained attention following the Grenfell and Lacrosse apartment fires.
Of critical importance are passive fire protection systems. These exist to contain or slow down the spread of fire by compartmentalising a building into fire zones using fire-rated walls, shafts, floors, ceilings, doors and service penetrations. Service penetrations include duct work, electrical and data cabling, plumbing and air conditioning pipes.
Rakic says the aim of passive fire systems involves containing the spread of fire to one compartment and thereby allowing people to escape safety from other compartments.
Passive fire protection also enables fire fighters to access a building and hopefully contain the fire to one fire affected compartment.
Under changes set to come into force in September, all passive fire protection systems on Class 2 buildings (apartment buildings) which are being constructed under NCC 2019 or later will need to incorporate systems with a fire resistance level which has been tested according to tests conducted under the most recent version of the Australian standard which specifies methods for fire tests on building materials, components or structures (AS1530 Part 4 – 2014).
Systems with tests conducted under older versions of the standard, such as those issued in 1997 or 2005, will no longer be acceptable.
Whilst the changes were introduced in 2019, a previous grandfathering clause which has been in place for the past three years has allowed older fire test reports to be used for new buildings.
This was allowed in order to enable manufacturers to re-test their systems according to the most up-to-date version of the standard.
However, the grandfathering clause will cease on September 1. From this date, all products which require a fire rating will need to be tested according to the latest standards.
Speaking of Trafalgar Fire, Rakic says has firm has spend $3 million preparing for the change and that all of its systems have gone through rigorous tests that either meet or exceed the current Australian standard.
At a broader level, Rakic says practices in passive fire protection need to change.
In particular, it is no longer acceptable for builders to handball compliance to trades.
Rakic says various factors will help to underpin better practices and safer buildings. These include greater focus on passive fire protection through mandated inspections, legislative change and building commissioners, such as in New South Wales.
“Many builders used to hand-ball compliance to the various trades, which is ineffective because passive fire protection needs to be looked at as a whole system or a matrix,” Rakic said.
“It was impractical for certifiers or building surveyors to check every penetration on site and they were having to accept trade specific certification for compliance. This would be in the form of a certificate saying all penetrations were installed correctly with little detail of why or how provided from the trades. This led to some poor and non-compliant installations being approved. The builders just didn’t want to know as their contracts would put the certification onus on the trades.”
“Down the track, this led to serious problems that cost strata bodies and building owners a lot of money to fix. Some builders would avoid liability by winding up their company, leaving the building owners or strata bodies with big bills. Of course, it is everyday Australians that end up paying. Something had to change.”
“There is now more impetus for buildings to be designed in smarter and safer ways and we are finding that people are seeking versatile and compliant solutions with our local Australia’s fire regulations.
“Ultimately it will lead to better and safer buildings. Hopefully it will prevent avoidable tragedies.”