Last Chance to Comment on Disability Standards

Friday, May 22nd, 2015
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The Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 commenced on May 1, 2011 and made significant changes to the accessibility requirements in new and upgraded buildings.

There is now a limited time remaining to provide comments as part of a regulatory review process.

The Disability (Access to Premises-Buildings) Standards 2010 (otherwise known as the ‘Premises Standards’ or the ‘Access Code’) are Commonwealth legislation and reside under the powers conferred by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

The objectives of the Standards are twofold. Firstly, the Standards aim to ensure that “dignified, equitable, cost‑effective and reasonably achievable access to buildings, and facilities and services within buildings, is provided for people with a disability.”

Secondly, the Standards aim to give certainty to building certifiers, building developers and building managers that if access to buildings is provided in accordance with these Standards, then compliance is achieved. By complying with the Standards, these parties are granted protection and cannot be found to be unlawful under the Act. Unfortunately, over the past four years, questions have been raised about some of the provisions of the Standards and the level of ‘certainty’ that the Standards provide.

For those unfamiliar with the Standards, it includes Schedule 1 – Access Code for Buildings outlining the prescriptive requirements for compliance when undertaking new building works in each building classification. The Access Code was based on the provisions of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) at that time (the 2011 edition) and was prepared by the Australian Building Codes Board in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Department.

It is, however, important to note that the BCA has been amended each year since the introduction of the Standards in 2011 and there are now some inconsistencies as a result. These include significant changes to the access and egress provisions of the BCA, including requirements to achieve a minimum slip-resistant ratings on ramps, stairs and landings, Braille and tactile exit signs under required exit signs and a compliant handrail within a fire-isolated stairs.

The current BCA also allows the ability to use lifts for emergency egress when assessed under a new Performance Requirement (DP7) and removal of the referencing of specific passenger lift Australian Standards allowing overseas lift equipment and new technologies to be used.

Interestingly, the recent changes to the BCA’s accessible egress provisions now exceeds the requirements of the Standards. In fact, Clause A2.4 of the Standards actually states “Fire safety provisions relating to the construction of buildings are located in the BCA.”

Fortunately, the Standards are up for review and interested parties are now able to lodge a submission until June 15, 2015. Part 6 of the Standards states that a review must be undertaken to review the effectiveness of these Standards and that this review must commence within four years and be completed within five years. Information on the review process can be found on the Australian Government Department of Industry and Science website.

The review aims to assess how successful the Standards have been at meeting the two principal objectives discussed above and to identify any necessary amendments to the Standards.

The review will also consider the inconsistencies in interpretation and the application of the Standards and how parts of the Standards that reside outside the Access Code (and therefore not included within the BCA) have been adopted into state and territory legislation. This will presumably include the exemption and concessions provided under Part 4 of the Standards, such as unjustifiable hardship claims, lessee exemptions, existing passenger lifts and existing accessible toilets concessions which are dealt with differently across the country.

A discussion paper is available on the Australian Government Department of Industry and Science website which can be used to help guide people through preparing their submissions. The discussion paper provides some questions that can help prompt responses in relevant areas and question the following areas:

  • Dimensions of accessible building features
  • Whether the ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ provisions are sufficiently clear for practical application
  • Asking about any issues with lifts being locked off and/or controlled by a constant pressure device, satisfying the requirements for swimming pools, the requirements for accessible car parking and issues in transport buildings
  • Whether the wayfinding provisions provide adequate accessibility to buildings and building services for people with disability
  • Comments on emergency egress
  • Questioning the application and use of available exemptions and concessions (i.e. the small building exemption, unjustifiable hardship and lessee concession)
  • Requesting comments regarding the interaction of the Standards with state and territory regulations

It’s clear that this review provides industry and stakeholder groups a great opportunity to comment on issues that have arisen in the past four years or on issues that they feel strongly about. Everyone is encouraged to visit the Department’s website and read more about the review.

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