The bar has been set and an Australian best practice fire protection licensing framework driven by industry is rolling out in Queensland.
All major stakeholders have come together and reached a consensus, no easy feat in building and construction, to put the safety of our community first. In order to achieve success, it is critical that we all get the transition period right. It will take a little time, but together we will get there and achieve a better industry.
Following strong advocacy from NFIA, the Queensland Government acted and empowered an industry led review. The State Government should be congratulated on their approach that gathered together and listened to leading industry expertise. An NFIA chaired Ministerial Construction Council Committee which involved key industry stakeholders (including Master Builders, HIA, Master Electricians, Master Plumbers, the Plumbing and Pipe Trades Employees Union as well as representatives from Engineers Australia and the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors), has recognised the life critical nature of the fire protection sector and rolled up their sleeves to get the job done.
Fire protection is a stand-alone sector and trade, separate from plumbing, electrical and other building related trades. The foundation of all of these trades are their licenses. People working in fire protection want a licence. Members of the fire protection industry are proud of the work that we do to help keep Australians safe in the built environment. They deserve the recognition and the pride that a licence brings.
Following on from the Grenfell Tower fire and other unfortunate fire related tragedies, laws around the world have continued to improve to recognise the importance and necessity of fire protection work and systems. Fire protection is the first line of defence against serious and deadly fires. Correctly installed and maintained systems assist and protect brave fire fighters as the response to a fire.
Covering all the critical elements both on a contractor and occupational level, the new Queensland framework will see streamlined licenses requiring nationally recognised qualifications not accreditation schemes. This will cover:
- passive fire elements;
- special hazards suppression systems;
- sprinkler and suppression systems;
- fire pumps;
- fire hydrants;
- portable fire equipment and hose reels;
- fire detection, alarm and warning systems; and
- emergency lighting.
The Industry has come together to recognise that fire protection is a legitimate trade that has equal standing to our counterparts in electrical, plumbing and the other building sectors. Just like these trades, fire protection licenses are underpinned by formal, audited and world-class qualification certificates and diplomas.
Amendments have been made to the Queensland Building and Construction Commission Act 1991 (Qld) which have been introduced by the Building Industry Fairness and Other Legislation Amendment (BIFOLA) Bill 2019 (Qld).
The main outcome of the amendments is to ensure that occupational licensing is a trade acquired Certificate III qualification for the majority of wet, dry and passive installation, maintenance and inspect and test work. As such, the sprinkler fitting apprenticeship and the fire alarm apprenticeship feature prominently in the licensing requirements for future entrance into the fire protection industry.
With this big improvement, NFIA and other key stakeholders intend to work closely with the Queensland Government to provide guidance materials that will explain the requirements for the new licensing framework, including the work for which a licence is required and the interaction with other trades. This support will assist practitioners with a smooth transition to the new licensing framework.
NFIA stands for a quality industry comprised of quality contractors. Getting a licence to operate a business should not be a tick and flick exercise, as this sort of practice leads to dangerous results. Licenses should be issued and regulated by the Government. This matter has been addressed by the review with a similar model to plumbing contracting licensing being adopted. What this means is that occupationally qualified persons will be required to undertake additional and relevant Certificate IV level units, meet minimum financial requirements, and continue to pass a fit and proper test. This should be welcomed by all industry stakeholders and adopted Australia-wide.
Design and Certification
In the design area, a new licence has been introduced for dry fire (design) based on the diploma of fire systems design course (electrical stream). NFIA was closely involved with the development of this qualification. Similarly, in the field of wet fire systems design, this field of activity has been dissected out of the broader hydraulic design licence which had a sanitary focus. There is now a separate wet fire design licence which requires the dedicated qualification of a fire system design diploma (wet fire stream).
The definition of the term ‘certification’ has been clarified to address a confusion about the overlap between certification and design. Industry has been working with Government on this matter and understands that further communication from the Department will clarify that this is the appropriate licence upon which building certifiers may rely for the preparation of statements regarding compliance of systems, whether they are existing or proprietary to them being installed.
Passive fire elements
In the passive sphere, there was inconsistency whereby a dedicated licence was required to inspect and test a number of passive elements (such as fire doors), but none was mandatorily required to install those same elements. In addition, there were no specific trade qualifications for installation of passive elements.
Passive fire elements of fire protection work are being recognised under the reforms. As a result, going forward essential work such as the installation, inspection and testing of passive fire work (such as fire doors and shutters, fire collars and smoke walls and ceilings), will now need to be conducted by a QBCC licensed professional. This will be preceded by a transition period to allow individuals to acquire the necessary licence.
Through the work of NFIA and other key stakeholders, new amended licence classes have been developed to regulate the installation, certification and maintenance of essential lifesaving fire detection alarm and warning systems. Alarms are an essential aspect of fire safety, and these reforms highlight the importance of these systems.
Many years ago, it was acknowledged that a separate licence for fire pumps was appropriate for the introduction of occupational licenses. However, it has now been recognised that the scope of this separate licence is now covered by other licenses.
Under the new reforms, fire pumps are now appropriately considered as simply a component of the system that they feed (be it a sprinkler system, hydrant, hose reel system or combination). Therefore, the appropriate licence is the licence for the corresponding system or combination of systems.
Definitions of terms within licences
The definitions of commercial and industrial as well as residential and construction have been enhanced by the new structure. The original definitions were based on the titles of the corresponding Australian Standards, which in the intervening period now have different names. It was also recognised that the introduction of new and different sprinkler specifications led to the unintended consequence of work on those systems being unlicensed work for which no appropriately licensed individual was available. The definitions have therefore been adjusted to reflect the attributes of the buildings in which those systems are installed – particularly regarding rising storeys, types of occupancy and area.
Excitingly, Australia’s clearest legislative definition of special hazards has been adopted. Special hazards qualifications have also been adapted in the new reforms. There are no real changes from a grade install, maintenance, inspect and test perspective as those areas have always been based on Certificate III qualification; however, some consolidation has been carried out in the certification area. With the introduction of the amendments there will only be one special hazard certificate licence based on a combination of licences that are currently in force.
Inspect and Test
Inspect and Test work has been refined to reflect the work actually taught in the relevant underpinning Certificate II qualification. It is important that the scope of work for an inspect and test practitioner is clear and reflects their skills. This has been achieved under the new reforms.
It is critical that we all get this transition right. It will take time, but together we will get there. NFIA and other industry stakeholders will work with impacted professionals to give them the support and access to training that they need going forward. Ultimately it is new entrants who will be impacted first, followed by current professionals over an extended period which has been based on previous reforms (e.g. the introduction of occupational licensing).
The changes mentioned above are a big step to establishing fire protection as a recognised industry. The new licensing structure removes the ability for unlicensed practitioners from carrying out fire protection work.
With the successful implementation of the licensing framework and formal training being administered by registered training organisations in Queensland, NFIA will continue to lobby State Governments to ensure fire protection work is recognised as the sector and trade that it is in other States.
Please contact NFIA by email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1800 00 NFIA (6342) with any queries about the new fire protection licensing framework.
By Glen Chatterton, CEO, National Fire Industry Association