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Understanding building compliance elements and regulations

07/2024

 

Building compliance is all about making sure the building is constructed safely for the community and is a critical part of any construction project. As a result, the owner, operator and occupant of any building is obligated to prove that their building complies with all relevant building regulations, plus other health and safety requirements.  

Regulations exist to ensure buildings are constructed to standard and in accordance with planning and zoning principles. This regulatory framework ensures that cities develop in a planned manner and that buildings are safe for occupants. 

The standard of building required is usually embodied in local, state or federal regulations and/or codes of practice. In Australia, the National Construction Code (NCC) documents various prescriptive provisions for building safety. The Code references standards that relate to design and installation of various building components. Unfortunately, the building design and approval process is different in almost every state, which is why building managers need to have local knowledge of the processes and standards that apply in their state.

 

What is a Fire Engineering Report? 

Previously, the administration of building requirements was controlled by local government departments, inspectors and emergency services authorities such as the fire brigade. Currently, there is opportunity for developers to gain approval for their building using a Fire Engineering Report (FER).  This report should fulfill the following: 

  • The safety measures incorporated into the building are equivalent to the prescribed requirements. 
  • It has a number of stated design assumptions that needs to be re-assessed throughout the life of the building.  
  • Is usually completed by an independent private company with appropriate professional indemnity insurance.

Once completed, a building is usually inspected to determine compliance with the relevant building codes/regulations/standards. The authority in charge of issuing the certificate/document of building compliance may rely on a series of compliance certificates issued by various accredited parties involved in the building process (e.g. structural engineering, electrical, plumbing, fire protection).  

If all is satisfactory, the building developer is usually issued with a certificate/permit that allows anyone to occupy the building per the terms under which the permit was issued. For example, you cannot legitimately occupy a warehouse that was issued a compliance certificate on the basis of an empty building with no storage, without the occupier re-applying for permission based on the actual occupancy.

 

In case of emergency 

There is the possibility in the event of an emergency that an inspection uncovers inadequacies in design or compliance with regulations. In an extreme case, a ‘closure order’ could be placed on the building requiring penalties to be paid, the building to be made safe or vacated, or even demolished. 

It should also be noted that the building approval processes generally only certify compliance with statutory regulations, whose main objective is life safety of occupants. This does not guarantee that the building has a suitable level of safety features to protect the asset itself. In other words, it does not ensure the building will be useable following an incident like a fire, nor that fire will be controlled to a sufficient extent to minimise damage to the contents.  

 

Ensure that a building is compliant and protected

When the construction of a building is complete, it is difficult for a building manager to verify the original design of the building or to modify certain design features. At the same time, the building owner is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance, particularly its essential safety measures such as:

  • Air conditioning systems
  • Fire hydrants
  • Emergency lifts and lighting
  • Fire windows
  • Exit doors and exit signs
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Emergency power supply
  • Fire isolated stairs, passages ramps
  • Fire control centres
  • Fire rated materials
  • Fire curtains and doors
  • Path of travel to exits
  • Emergency warning systems
  • Smoke alarms
  • Fire detectors and alarm systems
  • Smoke control systems
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Sprinkler systems

The maintenance of essential safety measures will ensure that the safety systems remain at the required operational level throughout the life of the building.  Essential services maintenance, keeping records and providing certification is a statutory requirement.

 

Best practice for complying with building regulations

  • Obtain any current Occupancy Permits. Also keep a copy of the FER, if applicable.
  • Identify the essential services present, maintain to required standards and keep records for review.
  • Appoint properly qualified person (with knowledge of buildings systems, standards and regulations) to audit against relevant performance standards.  Any deficiencies must be noted and rectified. 
  • Complete an annual essential services report (requirements will vary for each state or jurisdiction). Display the compliance form in an approved location.
  • Develop performance/engineering standards before embarking on a new project and specify requirements in any contract for construction/modification works.
  • Require tenants/unit owners to submit written details of any alteration for review (include in agreements/lease). 
  • Ensure any proposed changes comply with the terms of the original occupancy permission and fire engineering report.

 

References

The Commonwealth and State governments have developed building regulations to ensure buildings are constructed safety and according to the relevant codes.  “Standards Australia” also develop standards and technical specifications for various building services. 

www.abcb.gov.au
www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au
www.hpw.qld.gov.au
www.vba.vic.gov.au
www.standards.org.au

State authority websites also contain useful information relating to building certifiers, rectification orders, disciplinary registers and other additional information:
www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/trades-and-businesses/business-essentials/building-certifiers
www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/help-centre/online-tools/home-building-licence-check
www.nsw.gov.au/building-commissioner
www.qbcc.qld.gov.au/about-us/our-lists-registers
www.vba.vic.gov.au/tools/find-practitioner

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