Keeping on top of fire safety regulations and standards

By Garry Kwok, National Technical Services Manager, Wormald
Friday, 08 February, 2013

Fire safety is an important responsibility for anyone managing a business or facility of any size. To ensure the safety of building or site occupants, it is vital that an adequate fire protection solution is in place and that sufficient fire safety training is provided to building occupants. It is also important that any fire protection equipment on site is routinely serviced so that it is kept in proper working order and ready when needed.

Over the past eighteen months, a number of amendments have been introduced to legislation and to Australian Standards relating to fire safety and fire protection systems and equipment. Business and property managers have a responsibility to keep up to date with these changes to ensure compliance and a high level of protection against fire.

Routine maintenance and servicing

There are various state-based fire safety regulations throughout Australia.  For example, in New South Wales (NSW), property owners and managers must be aware of the NSW Environmental Planning & Assessment Regulations (2000). The regulation stipulates that all essential fire safety measures must be maintained and demands that an Annual Fire Safety Statement (AFSS) be prepared by a building’s owner or their agent and submitted to the respective governing authority. An AFSS certifies that a building’s fire safety measures have been assessed by a qualified person and were found capable of performing as intended to their original design standard.

November 2012 saw the release of the newly revised edition of the Australian Standard AS1851 with a title change to AS1851-2012 ‘Routine Service of Fire Protection Systems and Equipment’. Australian Standard AS1851-2012 provides prescribed routine servicing activities for the majority of fire protection systems and equipment. This includes inspection, testing, preventative maintenance and survey activities and helps to ensure that the systems and equipment are in proper working order.

The latest revision to AS1851-2012 is the result of extensive consultation between industry experts, regulators, government and fire service providers. While many of the core elements of AS1851 remain the same, there have been some clarifications, updates and improvements. For example, the standard introduces the requirement for ‘baseline data’ to be provided for any fire protection systems and equipment installed. This provides a benchmark for subsequent periodic servicing activities so results can be compared. There is now greater emphasis on the records and evidence required by the building owner to demonstrate regulatory compliance.

Fire protection in aged care facilities

2012 also saw a significant change to fire safety legislation relating to nursing homes and aged care facilities. As of 1 January 2013, the retrofitting of automatic sprinkler systems has become a mandatory requirement in existing facilities throughout NSW. This is a change that will be welcomed by many, as it significantly enhances the safety of these living environments for the state’s older and most vulnerable citizens.

Similar requirements already exist in Victoria and Queensland and these changes to the legislation in NSW are consistent with the Building Code of Australia’s national standard for sprinklers in newly built aged care buildings which has applied since 2002. Given the tragic consequences of a fire at a Quakers Hill nursing home in November 2011, it is not surprising that many groups, including Council of the Ageing, are calling for this legislation to be extended to all nursing homes throughout the country.

Under the new regulation, operators of Commonwealth-accredited aged care facilities have just 18 months to retrofit sprinklers. Operators who are unable to meet that time frame will be given until January 2016 to complete the installation and will be required to submit six-monthly progress reports to the government’s implementation committee. Many operators are already well advanced in their preparations.

While the cost to retrofit an aged care facility can be significant, automatic sprinkler systems are widely recognised as one of the most effective defences a building can have against fire. When used in conjunction with a fire detection system, these sprinkler systems can automatically detect a fire, transmit an alarm to warn occupants and alert the fire brigade, while at the same time acting to control the fire. They have the ability to limit fire damage to the property and reduce interruption to facility operations.

Under the new regulation, operators will need to inform residents, prospective residents and families about whether sprinklers are installed and make progress reports publicly available.

Fire safety in any building, regardless of size or purpose, requires careful consideration and expert assessment to determine the most appropriate fire protection solution. Retrofitting a sprinkler system in an older building can be a complex project and will take time. Aged care providers and nursing home facility managers should allow themselves plenty of time to meet the prescribed deadlines.

Once installed, automatic sprinkler systems need to be maintained in accordance with relevant legislation, codes and standards to ensure they are in proper working order if and when they are required to operate in the event of a fire. 

Fire safety training

While having an appropriate fire protection solution is essential, its impact will be limited if building occupants don’t know how to respond in the event of an emergency. Facility managers must ensure that staff members are also trained. For example, staff should be aware of how to use the portable fire protection equipment on site and how to effectively evacuate in the event of an emergency.

Facility and business managers should develop an effective fire prevention plan in accordance with the Australian Standard, AS 3745 - 2010 ‘Planning for Emergencies in Facilities’. Emergency-related training is a vital element of this fire prevention plan. The Standard outlines the minimum requirements for the development of the emergency plan and also provides direction for the planning and implementation of an effective emergency planning committee, emergency control organisation (ECO) and emergency response procedures.

The purpose of the ECO is to provide guidance to management and staff that places them in the best position to quickly and adequately respond to an actual or potential emergency on their premises or nearby. Those appointed to the ECO have the responsibility of ensuring that all relevant personnel are trained for their role in an emergency and could manage the situation until appropriate emergency services arrive.

It’s important to note amendments to AS 3745 which came in to effect in late 2011. These changes make it mandatory for training to be completed by at least one member of the emergency planning committee, for the ECO and for the facility occupants. Furthermore, ECO members must attend skills retention training every six months.

Wormald offers a wide range of fire safety training courses such as warden training, emergency awareness training, evacuation training and fire extinguisher training.

Keeping up to date

Fire safety is an important responsibility and it can be daunting to keep up to date with frequent changes to legislation, codes and standards and understand exactly what the responsibilities are. Working with a fire protection specialist can help building managers and EHS officers to stay on top of things - ensuring all of the necessary servicing procedures are undertaken so that the risk of the fire protection equipment failing is minimised. Having well-maintained fire protection equipment and systems on site could mean the difference between a minor fire and a devastating blaze.

Wormald offers maintenance and servicing to all types and size of business and can also maintain other manufacturers’ systems.

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