The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill which was introduced on 9 December 2013 had part of its first reading on 13 February 2014.

The Bill amends the Building Act 2004 and is intended to give effect to reforms to improve the systems for managing earthquake-prone buildings. (See our earlier newsletter "Earthquake Prone Buildings and the Health and Safety in Employment Act" dated 25 October 2012). In particular, the Bill provides defined periods within which earthquake-prone buildings must be assessed and then, if necessary, either strengthened or demolished.

Key aspects of the Bill

The key aspects of the Bill are:

  • An "Earthquake-prone building" is defined as a building that would have its ultimate capacity succeeded in a moderate earthquake (defined in regulations) and which would, if it collapsed, be likely to cause injury or death to people in the building or on any other property, or damage to any other property. A part of a building can also be determined to be earthquake-prone.
  • Territorial authorities are required to carry out seismic capacity assessments on all non-residential buildings and multi-storey and multi-unit residential buildings in their districts within five years of the commencement of the Act. The methodology to be used for these assessments is to be specified and published by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), following consultation.
  • If a building, or any part of it, is determined to be earthquake-prone, the owner must complete seismic work so that the building is no longer earthquake-prone. This work must be completed within 15 years of the assessment being made.
  • Certain "Priority Buildings" must be assessed and have seismic work carried out within a shorter timeframe. "Priority Buildings" are not yet defined but are to be defined in regulations. The Bill gives as examples of what might be covered, buildings that could, if they were to collapse in an earthquake, impede a transport route of strategic importance in an emergency, and buildings of particular significance in terms of public safety (for example, because of what may fall off or from them in an earthquake).
  • Owners of buildings held to be earthquake-prone can apply for an exemption from the requirement to carry out seismic work. The criteria for granting such exemptions will be set out in regulations. Category 1 heritage building owners can also apply for an extension of the time to complete any seismic work.

Health and safety issues in the meantime

Some guidance on the interplay between the Building Act and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (the HSE Act) has now been provided by Worksafe New Zealand (Worksafe), which is New Zealand's workplace health and safety regulator. A position statement was issued on 13 December 2013 in which Worksafe outlined how employer and building owner obligations will be enforced under the HSE Act.

The key points are:

  • Worksafe will not take health and safety enforcement action in relation to the structural integrity of a building because this is covered by the Building Act. Worksafe will, however, raise any issues regarding earthquake resilience of buildings with the relevant council.
  • If a serious harm incident occurs because of the failure of a building's structural integrity, Worksafe is unlikely to take further action if the Building Act has been complied with. However, if it becomes clear that that is not the case, enforcement action could be taken under the HSE Act.
  • For building components (such as ceilings, verandahs and glass) and chattels, the obligations under the HSE Act apply. That means that both occupiers and owners of buildings need to proactively identify and manage these workplace hazards. Failure to do so will receive attention from Worksafe as the regulator.
  • Worksafe expects building owners and employers to keep up to date with new relevant information that might raise concerns about safety in workplaces.
  • Employers and building owners need to work together to ensure that emergency plans and procedures in place.

Conclusion

The Bill endeavours to strike a balance between ensuring that all non-residential, multi-storey and multi-unit residential buildings are at a level where people using those buildings will feel at least moderately safe, while recognising that this is a large and very expensive task. Whether the right balance has been struck is likely to be the subject of much debate as the Bill progresses through the parliamentary process.