Govt. promises major strata fire safety revamp

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There is a lot of confusion and anger in Strataland about fire safety, including who gets to choose what’s safe and what isn’t, and how a building that has passed all the checks for years, is suddenly declared unsafe, requiring a lot of expensive remedial work.

Strata owners are quite rightly suspicious when they discover that the company inspecting their block and deciding on how fire-safe or otherwise it is, is often also the company that will come and fix the problems they have allegedly found.

Just a quick searc for the words “fire safety” in the Search Forum box (below the latest forum posts list) will reveal that this dilemma is much more common than you’d think

So it’s gratifying to note that the NSW government is taking steps to clarify the situation, if only because fire safety is one area that should be free from smoke and mirrors.

In fact, a recent survey of new strata blocks by the Office of the Building Commissioner and Strata Community Association, the strata managers’ professional body, revealed that fire safety flaws were the second most common defects, after waterproofing.

With that in mind, the NSW Government has announced changes to “improve the design, installation, certification and maintenance of critical fire safety systems in residential apartment buildings, to further protect residents.”

Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson said the reforms were the result of nine months’ work by a specialist working group made up of representatives from 16 organisations including fire practitioners, certifiers, strata and building managers, engineers, educators, councils and regulator.

“Fire safety is absolutely critical for those living in apartments and the NSW Government is committed to keeping residents safe,” Mr Anderson said.

“While we have already made significant reforms to lift standards in the industry, our research shows defects in fire safety systems are still the second most common in apartments. That’s why we commissioned this important work and will be implementing all of its recommendations.”

The working group carried out a detailed review of the regulatory framework, industry practice and the role of regulatory authorities such as councils, Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW Fair Trading.

The resulting report makes four recommendations to help improve fire safety: 

  1. Establish a customer-facing building manual. 
  2. Ensure the effective regulation of fire safety practitioners.
  3. Enhance the trustworthiness of Fire Safety Schedules, Fire Safety Certificates and Annual Fire Safety Statements. 
  4. More effective regulatory and compliance action.

The review also put forward a number of major reforms that will be addressed during 2022 including:

  • Establishing a new template building manual that provides the owners corporation and fire practitioners with key information on what is installed, how it should perform and essential maintenance requirements.
  • Tightening the regulation of fire safety work, starting with establishing a new category of certifier to verify the performance of installed systems.
  • Mandating improved quality and standards for fire safety documentation which is relied on for certification and inspection processes.
  • Enhancing the way that the main regulatory authorities work together, with strategies to deliver more consistent and effective approaches to compliance across NSW.

Fire Protection Association Australia acting CEO Leigh Gesthuizen has welcomed the NSW Government’s commitment to fire safety.

“This work is a significant step forward towards lifting industry standards and delivering a safer community, and the Association acknowledges the valuable contribution made to these reforms by its outgoing President, Bill Lea,” Mr Gesthuizen said.

A spokesman for the Minister said the fire safety report forms part of the NSW Government’s Construct NSW transformation strategy to establish a more trustworthy residential building and construction industry by 2023.

To see the full report go to: www.nsw.gov.au/building-commissioner/building-and-construction-resources/research-on-fire-safety-reforms.

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