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Use of behavioural insights to reduce improper service penetrations

What we did and why

Through our proactive inspections and Statewide Cladding audits, we identified frequently occurring service penetrations (plumbing, electrical, gas) that can compromise the fire safety of internal walls in class 2 to 9 buildings.

In the event of a fire, a compliant fire-rated wall should contain the fire to a particular area of a building for a specified time period. A service penetration occurs when a service such as cabling, conduit or plumbing passes through a wall. An improper service penetration occurs when a fire or smoke wall is penetrated with a service but is not properly sealed. The Building Code of Australia sets out minimum standards to reduce the impact of service penetrations.

An improper service penetration of a fire-rated wall can create a weak point in a fire-rated wall, which can allow fire and smoke to spread. Improper service penetrations present a risk to the health and safety of building occupants, and to the structure itself.

We partnered with BehaviourWorks Australia, a leading behaviour change research enterprise at Monash University, to find out how improper service penetration of fire and smoke walls can be reduced through behavioural insights.

What we found

The research analysed what drives these behaviours and the types of interventions that could make a difference.

We engaged extensively with a wide range of stakeholders to create a shared understanding of the behaviours that lead to improper service penetrations. Through a literature review and dialogues with stakeholders and the VBA, BehaviourWorks Australia identified three key themes:

  • the ‘design and construct’ model has implications for behaviour
  • ambiguous regulation and guidelines may exist
  • knowledge gaps may drive behaviour.

Our stakeholders shared what they know about these themes and told us how we could reach target groups. They also suggested ways to promote ‘good’ behaviours that will lead to correct work practices.

BehaviourWorks Australia worked closely with a target audience of practitioners and industry stakeholders to understand drivers and barriers to desirable behaviours of those working directly on site. From these discussions, BehaviourWorks Australia helped develop behaviour change tools including visual communications materials designed to influence positive on-site behaviours by practitioners and tradespeople.

What difference this made

The VBA launched a communications campaign for building and plumbing practitioners in March 2023 using the visual communications materials (PDF, 396.43 KB) developed in the research project. The campaign aims to increase awareness of the consequences of poor service penetrations and increase individual practitioner/tradesperson responsibility for compliance when carrying out service penetrations.

Relying on the insights from this project, a Practice Note about Service penetration installations in fire rated and smoke proof walls was published in 2022 that provides guidance on selection and installation of service penetrations in fire rated and smoke-proof walls.

Insights gained from this research have informed the development of an enhanced Essential Safety Measures (ESM) Responsibilities Framework (PDF, 1555.71 KB) to frame ongoing regulatory interventions on the maintenance of ESMs in Class 2 to 9 buildings.

The research insights have also informed our Proactive Inspections Program and ongoing consumer education initiatives. It complements other fire safety research supported by the VBA, including investigating passive fire protection defects in residential multi-owned properties.