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Routine servicing of wet fire protection equipment

What we did and why

Wet fire safety systems (such as hydrants, hose reels, sprinklers and pump sets) are part of the Essential Safety Measures (ESMs) in Class 2 to 9 buildings[1] that keep occupants safe in case there is a fire. The equipment needs to be well maintained over its lifetime to ensure it operates effectively if there is a fire emergency. Routine servicing of wet fire protection equipment must be carried out by appropriately qualified licensed or registered plumbing practitioners.

From different industry views, we found we needed more information about how many people are needed to carry out routine servicing of wet fire protection equipment and how many people were carrying out this work outside the regulatory scheme.

We began a research project to estimate the demand and capacity for this work in Victoria. We also looked at whether there was potential for market disruption if unregulated individuals cannot or do not transition into the regulatory scheme.

What we found

There are an estimated 3.9 million buildings in Victoria as at February 2020. The research estimated that 5.5 percent of these buildings (213,000 buildings) are Class 2 to 9 buildings and of these, 184,000 contain units of in-scope wet fire protection equipment that require routine servicing.

The research estimated approximately 1.8 million hours per year are required to service Class 2 to 9 buildings in Victoria that contain in-scope equipment (sprinklers, hydrants, hose reels and pump sets) in line with regulatory requirements. The research also estimated that currently licensed and registered plumbing practitioners had a capacity of approximately 1.7 million hours per year to perform routine servicing of fire protection equipment (at February 2020) with the assumption that a proportion of their time is also spent on other plumbing or fire protection work.

The research found that (at February 2020) there may be an insufficient number of registered or licensed plumbing practitioners to service hydrants within Class 2 to 9 buildings in Victoria. For sprinklers, pump sets and hose reels, there appeared to be a sufficient number of registered or licensed plumbing practitioners to perform the required routine servicing of wet fire protection equipment in those buildings.

What difference this made

The research delivered a comprehensive database of Victorian buildings as at February 2020. This database has helped validate and provide useful insights for the VBA’s regulatory activities including the Statewide Cladding Audit. The database has also provided a rich source of data to shape the VBA’s data strategy and drive better integration of data within the VBA and across the building system.

While the VBA introduced restricted classes pathways (in April 2020) for those who carry out routine servicing of wet fire protection systems, the results from this research will help inform longer-term options for those who continue to do this work outside the regulatory scheme. The modelling in this research will enable the VBA to refresh the estimates and analysis from time to time as we continue to monitor compliance in this area.

We have shared the research with the Expert Panel for the Building System Review and DELWP to inform their considerations for reform to the building regulatory system.

Active fire safety systems (ESMs) in Class 2 to 9 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.

[1] Class 2 to 9 buildings are multi-storey residential buildings, office or other commercial buildings, factories, warehouses, and public buildings such as hospitals and schools.