Fire safety protection in multi-storey buildings
What we did and why
The VBA’s Statewide Cladding Audit (SCA) identified that combustible cladding is sometimes just one of several potential fire safety risks in multi-storey residential and public-use buildings.
We wanted to better understand these other risks, so we analysed audit data for a sample of multi-storey residential and public use buildings.
What we found
Many of the buildings had active fire safety systems (such as smoke alarms, detection systems and sprinklers) with fewer passive fire safety systems (such as self-closing or smoke sealed doors or fire isolated stairways). Fire safety systems are part of the Essential Safety Measures (ESMs) in a building that keep occupants safe in case there is a fire.
These fire safety systems are more likely to be part of the building fire safety design by fire safety engineers using alternative solutions (performance solutions) rather than the prescriptive rules (deemed-to-satisfy) in the National Construction Code. Alternative solutions for fire safety designs are required to be supported by evidence, tests, calculations or expert judgment. We did not evaluate the suitability of the fire safety designs as part of the research as this is separately investigated, and enforcement action taken if appropriate.
What difference this made
The findings validate our call for increased competency of those who undertake fire safety designs for multi-storey buildings. We have supported research initiatives by The Warren Centre to lift professional competency standards for fire safety engineers. We have introduced restricted registration pathways (in April 2020) for those who carry out routine servicing of wet fire safety systems so that we can make sure they carry out the work appropriately. Having highly competent and skilled practitioners in this area is even more important as buildings become more complex.
Active fire safety systems (ESMs) in these buildings need to be well-maintained over their lifetime. Failure to do so puts the safety of people in those buildings at risk. The VBA has developed useful educational material and videos for owners’ corporations and building occupants (including in different languages) to raise awareness on how important it is to maintain ESMs as a first line of defence against fire.
We asked our stakeholders to work with us to improve the regulatory framework for ESMs. Together, we are developing an enhanced ESM framework that includes clarity of roles and responsibilities, education and training for those involved in ESM work, and an inspections methodology to check ESM work.