Australia generally enjoys a comparatively good record of commercial fire safety.
Where tragedies of loss of life and serious injury due to fire do occur, it reminds us of just how critical it is to maintain and continuously improve our overall fire protection systems, technology and technician skills.
That’s not to say that commercial fire safety performance can’t improve. Australians naturally expect to be safe from fire risks when shopping, walking through airports and any other number of daily normal activities.
A cornerstone of Australia’s fire safety performance is Australian Standard 1851-2012 (AS1851-2012) Routine Service of Fire Protection Systems and Equipment. This is the fire safety performance benchmark that fire protection maintenance and service contractors generally work to, either because it is mandated by government, as in Queensland and Victoria, or voluntarily in other states. It provides a detailed roadmap of ongoing fire safety system maintenance required to sustain the system’s operation into the future, once the system installation has been completed.
AS1851-2012 was recently amended, and Amendment 1 was published by Standards Australia on 16 November. The amended and improved version will enhance commercial fire safety in a couple of key fire safety system maintenance activities. Benefits of these changes will flow on to building owners and occupiers, to fire protection contractors, to fire protection technicians and, ultimately, the Australian community.
The major change in the AS1851-2012 amendment relates to “baseline data.” Baseline data is the term used to describe the operating parameters that apply to the building’s fire protection system at the date of its original completed installation. That is, if a sprinkler system was installed in 1992, then the operating parameters would be as determined by the relevant Code(s), Standard(s), and legislation at the time.
Under the original AS1851-2012, the fire protection maintenance and service contractor was required to maintain the fire protection system in accordance with the baseline data. The problem was that if the baseline data was missing, the fire protection system’s maintenance could be compromised. In some instances, the compromise may be quite significant and come at a real financial cost to the building owners. While not the fault of the maintaining fire protection contractor or the building owner, it was simply an artefact of the prescriptive wording of the original AS1851-2012. If the baseline data was never required to be provided at the time of its original completed installation, then it could be an expensive exercise for the building owner to create, and often an impossible task to undertake. The older the building, often the greater likelihood that baseline data was unavailable.
The knock-on effect of absent baseline data was that the fire protection technician could not always perform the maintenance work stipulated by AS1851-2012. The Standard further prescribed quite a convoluted process for the building owner and fire protection contractor to then follow in addressing the absence of that building’s baseline data. And all of this work adds up to greater cost for the customer while at the same time offering limited enhancement to the quality of the fire protection system.
Ultimately, the Standards Australia expert committee was able to make the necessary adjustments to AS1851-2012 to address the problem and this is at the centre of the Amendment 1 publication. The professional fire protection technician can now effectively override the baseline data requirement on the basis of their knowledge, experience and training. This outcome sustains the integrity of the fire protection system maintenance process while reducing the potential cost impact to building owners which was inherent in the prescriptive baseline data requirement of the original AS1851-2012 publication.