As Fire Safety regulations evolve, building owners must
ensure they remain compliant in meeting the safety
standards imposed on Fire Protection Systems.
It goes without saying that the stakes have always been high when it comes to Fire Safety within the Facilities Management space. But the regulatory dynamics have changed significantly across Australia in the past decade, not least in New South Wales, one of EQUANS’ biggest ANZ markets. The change to a more robust approach to Fire Safety is undoubtedly positive but it has also changed the process and responsibilities for both FM vendors and customers.
The biggest shift has been in compliance oversight. As recently as five years ago, compliance with Fire Safety regulations was not third-party certified. Instead, it was left to a building owner to prove and attest to a building’s Fire Safety. That obligation has now changed with every NSW building needing to be assessed and certified by an accredited Fire Safety Practitioner and signed off by the Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA).
Liability for building safety now lies with the individual, not the legal entity
There are two key implications to this change. First, liability now rests with the accredited Fire Safety Practitioner. This is a huge change. Previously, legal liability sat not with an individual but with the legal entity that owned the building in question. This lack of personal liability coupled with the fact that no officially certified Fire Safety assessment was needed, effectively made the process patchy at best and dangerous at worst. The new compliance regime significantly raises the stakes on Fire Safety compliance and the necessity to ensure both assessment and remediation works are carried out to the highest standards. It’s unlikely any individual would risk the professional and legal consequences of signing off on a building otherwise.
The new compliance regime means timing is everything
The second key implication is linked to time and process. In NSW, certification must be completed within ninety days of the relevant council issuing its letter outlining a building’s Fire Safety Measures (FSMs). Once this letter has been issued to the building owner, there are ninety days for all testing and remediation work to be done, and this can be extensive. There are up to 36 individual FSMs which could apply to any single building. From the moment the FSM letter is issued, the starting gun has been fired for the race to certification. And the pressure lies with the accredited Fire Safety Practitioner who needs to oversee the entire assessment of the measures they are endorsing and any associated remediation prior to the completion of an Annual Fire Safety Statement.
Collaboration holds the key to smooth safety compliance
Once the process begins, the priority for the Fire Safety Assessor will be to obtain baseline data for the building in question. This is the most critical part of the process, as it outlines what is needed to ensure the relevant identified systems are installed and working correctly. The baseline data also ensures that the assessor is collecting the right FSM data as defined by the council.
This is the first test for the collaboration between the building owner / occupier and assessor. It is the building’s owner who has the sole ability to request a Fire Safety assessment letter and associated FSMs from the council. It is crucial that this process is done in coordination with the assessor and the contractor commissioned to undertake any identified remediation so that all parties have as much time as possible to work through the process within the 90 days permitted.
At EQUANS, we are able to act as accredited assessors and fire protection engineers and service contractors simultaneously, making the process considerably easier.
The second test for the collaboration is during the assessment and remediation process itself. Any FSM deficiencies must be both identified and remediated within the 90-day window. It is therefore crucial that the building owner / occupier, assessor, and contractor are working in lockstep to ensure all works are completed efficiently. This process can be made significantly easier if the assessment and remediation can be done by one individual or team.
This was the case recently for a multi-site client where we utilised both fire and mechanical teams on the same site, at the same time, to help solve issues and guide our clients through the process from ensuring the correct baseline data and correct information is provided through to confirming remediation works quickly.
Compliance can be ensured by a contractor, but customers play a crucial role
But the building owners / occupiers also need to play their part. Since the changes in compliance requirements, not all stakeholders involved in this process are aware of the heightened requirements to make a building fire complaint and safe. If you are preparing to take your new building through its first Fire Safety certification, or you’re taking a building through its annual renewal, take a moment to think about what practical action you can take to ensure the process runs smoothly:
- Do I have everything ready to provide the contractor involved to carry out the AFSS process and my corresponding baseline data?
- Have I received my FSM letter from council indicating when the AFSS is due?
- Have I identified and commissioned an Accredited Fire Safety Assessor for the FSM on-site?
- Do I know how FSM issues will be remediated? Will assessment and remediation be done by the same party?
- Who in my business will act as the counterparty to the Fire Safety Assessor during the process?
If these questions can be answered ahead of time, you should be well set to obtain your annual Fire Safety Statement. And even if you’re not in NSW, the compliance approach outlined here is largely similar across other states so the key learning should apply nationally.
If you have any questions about building Fire Safety and how to ensure compliance, why not get in touch with the EQUANS team. As both accredited assessors and qualified Fire Safety engineers, we stand ready to make the process as smooth as possible for your business.