Significant changes are on the horizon for building standards relating to fire safety, with draft amendments to all building codes expected to be adopted in March 2018. Building owners and professionals will need to keep up with the planned changes.

If you or your client are currently planning for new building design, development, or construction, you need to consider whether the proposed new standards will affect your project.

Recent high rise apartment building fires in Australia and overseas have focused concern on the adequacy of standards which regulate fire safety, in particular the fire resistance of external materials used as cladding and facades.

The Australian Building Codes Board has responded to this concern by releasing draft amendments to the National Construction Code (which incorporates the Building Code of Australia). The Code mandates minimum construction standards to be achieved in all buildings in Australia. “Buildings” includes commercial, industrial, and multi-storey residential buildings, and houses, sheds, and carports. Primary users of the Code include developers, builders, architects, building certifiers and surveyors, engineers, plumbers, and hydraulic consultants.

The draft amendments to the Code include:

  • The introduction of a new verification method for testing of external wall assemblies for fire spread, by reference to a new Australian Standard for testing;
  • More stringent requirements for sprinkler protection of balconies of residential buildings;
  • Clarifying the language within the Code relating to the use of external wall claddings and attachments; and
  • Revision of the Code’s compliance provisions.

Some of the specific proposals include:

  • A requirement that most buildings of 3 or more storeys must incorporate non-combustible external walls, common walls, flooring, lift and utility shafts;
  • Restrictions on affixing any ancillary fixtures to non-combustible external walls, unless they too are non-combustible or fall within a narrow class of exceptions (such as plumbing and light fixtures); and
  • Restricting most external signs to one storey in size.

The Board has invited public comment on the proposed changes by 10 September 2017 and they can be viewed in full on the Board’s website here.

After consideration of public comments, the Board anticipates finalising and adopting the amendments by March 2018.

These amendments are intended to complement and reinforce other building materials conformance measures being implemented around Australia, for example the introduction by Queensland of the Building and Construction Legislation (Non-conforming Building Products—Chain of Responsibility and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2017, and the work being undertaken by the Senate Economics References Committee’s Inquiry into Non-Conforming Building Products.

The scope of the proposed amendments, and the short timetable for their adoption, signpost the growing importance of ensuring that fire safety standards can adapt and respond to evolving building styles and materials.