NSW Fire Safety Reforms – A Call to Arms for Regulators 1

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Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
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When MP Victor Dominello, Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, tabled the NSW Government’s response to the Independent Review of the Building Professionals Act 2005 (the Lambert report) in Parliament last month, he was laying down plans for the largest shake up of building controls in the state’s history and establishing an important new benchmark for regulators in other states and territories to work toward.

The Minister outlined the government’s full or partial support for 72 of the recommendations (of the 150 set down in the Independent Review), including several that have been long championed by FPA Australia.

The majority of fire safety reforms recommended in the Lambert report have been supported as part of the government’s response, and a further 70 recommendations will now be reviewed in consultation with industry.

In its response, the government made it clear it will:

  • take immediate action to strengthen fire safety certification for new and existing buildings
  • require certification by accredited persons for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire safety systems, preferably drawing on existing accreditation schemes such as the Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme (FPAS) or other relevant schemes
  • enhance the current system of “annual fire safety statement checks” including adopting the Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme (FPAS) or other relevant schemes
  • enhance the number of critical stage site inspections for certain building types
  • require that persons installing passive fire protection measures be suitably trained and licensed
  • consider if further regulation, licensing or industry accreditation should be adopted in respect to the roles of installation and maintenance of fire protection systems

The NSW government’s response represented a strong commitment to genuine positive fire safety reform. It provides industry with a clear framework for positive building reform going forward. It should also provide the community with absolute confidence about the safety of their building stock, both new and existing.

FPA Australia has advocated for many years, through multiple government reviews, submissions and industry forums that an overhaul of the approach to fire safety in NSW was needed. Minister Dominello must be congratulated for consulting, listening and taking decisive action.

We are also grateful to Michael Lambert for producing comprehensive, clear and practical recommendations in his original review. These reforms would not be possible without his important work.

Central to FPA Australia’s advocacy is a philosophy that the investment in the development of legislation, codes and standards is only realised when competent individuals apply these requirements. Regulation should make clear and measurable statements about what actions are required and who is responsible. It should also confirm minimum requirements to undertake these tasks and support individuals who have invested in applying a professional approach underlined by recognised experience and qualifications.

This response by the NSW government is a clear signal to other states and territories that the community values and expects fire safety to be delivered in a competent manner and that in principle the NSW government subscribes to FPA Australia’s philosophical position.

Every other state and territory must now consider how they will ensure their building regulation is up to speed with the best practice reforms outlined by NSW.

Regulators must consider how they will ensure competency of fire protection practitioners in their jurisdiction, and what methods of validation will be utilised to do this.

In addition, all regulators must consider whether the current system of certification for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire safety systems is as robust as what has now been greenlit in NSW.

Partnering with national peak bodies such as FPA Australia to recognise competency by suitable accreditation schemes rewards industry operators who have invested in the appropriate training and experience. FPA Australia will continue to champion this model with all jurisdictions.

We want to see this announcement lead to improvements not only in the quality of buildings in NSW, but in all states and territories. We look forward to seeing these reforms delivered in NSW and also working with all governments to achieve equally positive fire safety outcomes for the Australian community.

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  1. Brett Bates

    I don't disagree with the general context of the article. However, the disappointing aspect of this and other minor changes is that state politicians like Dominello aren't advocating strongly for a COAG agenda to include an outcome for building related legislative improvements carried out on a national basis. Saying that a solution is to be found by carrying out various state based reports that can never comprehensively address all matters relative to achieving high quality outcomes for building construction projects across the nation is unrealistic. An example is the fact that a recent and ongoing risk of building fires in residential apartment buildings occurred because of imported external cladding panels that were actually certified as meeting non-combustable manufacturing standards but subsequently proved to burn rapidly when exposed to an ignition source. A federal building construction commission is required to thrash out new national accreditation standards for everyone that is involved in the building and construction supply delivery chain. More fire 'inspectors' in NSW is akin to the absurdity that was caused by our state based 19th century railway gauge differentiation. It makes an absolute mockery of real 'Innovation' and forward thinking from ever being truely practiced by the dead hands that guide our state and federal governments .