All buildings have Essential Safety Measurement requirements these components and systems require inspection and/or maintenance so that the level of safety they provide does not deteriorate over time to an unacceptable level. It has been recognised that there will be benefits to safety, efficiency and better management of risk as a consequence of delivering a consistent approach to the maintenance of essential safety measures in buildings. Building owners have a responsibility to maintain their premises as a safe environment, ensuring that all safety measures operate as required and in accordance with the various legislative requirements.
The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the common pitfalls that will result if a consistent approach to the regulation of maintenance of essential safety measures for Class 2 to 9 buildings is not maintained. Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 re-affirms a requirement for employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees, as well as ensuring that people (other than employees) are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the employer’s undertaking while they are at the employer’s place of work.
Take a look around your building right now and you will most likely identify a few of the following hazards. Most building occupants will cause some of the following examples to occur without realising they have potentially compromised the building’s performance in the event of an emergency.
Multi-Storey Residential Building:
- Storage of combustible material in fire isolated stairway;
- Holding open of self-closing fire doors;
- Cabling installed in electrical shaft without re-installing fire rated pillows and cushions in the penetration;
- Insertion of additional door hardware to fire rated apartment doorways that compromise the fire resistance of the door set;
- Maybe over time a small multi-purpose room could be created at the end of a corridor (i.e. lightweight partitions and door set) without extending smoke detection or sprinkler system;
- Installation of any caged storage areas to basement car-park by residents over time may cause a blockage of the required egress path;
- Maintenance of any required separating fire rated walls between apartments may be at risk due to inability to obtain access to all apartments;
Multi Storey Office Building:
- Over time there may have been a few of Internal fit outs without a building permit and could affected the location of many primary things including portable and fixed fire-fighting equipment, exit signs and paths of travel to exits;
- An internal fit out in the past or that has taken place recently, can cause the path of travel width and distance to an exit to be change. This includes encroachment of minimum required exit path widths within the building.
- Internal fit outs undertaken to offices may endanger the occupants caused by the lack of smoke detector and/or sprinkler coverage;
- The building may have had just an internal refurbishment with the introduction of some illegal commercial grade carpet within a fire isolated stairway or office area.
- Moveable office furniture (couches) placed in inappropriate places, blocking essential services, i.e. Signage, fire hose reels, obstacles affecting access to an accessibility area; smoke detection systems all these may deteriorate over time to an unacceptable level if left unattended. Essential Safety Measurements must be checked on an annual basis.
Large Industrial Building:
- Panic bolts and additional locking hardware get installed to exit doors over time if unchecked (doors must always be openable with single handed downward action and without a key);
- Installation of manufacturing equipment for the proposed use of the building may cause the blockage of a required exit sign or door;
- An office constructed inside a factory may have failed to extend the required detection system or relocate Portable fire fighting equipment;
- The construction of a mezzanine storage area with non-complying balustrade and ladder access (a work safe problem nobody wants);
- The underside of a mezzanine may have not been provided with the correct smoke detector and / or sprinkler coverage;
- The change of use may have occurred without obtaining a new occupancy permit and essential safety measures schedule (i.e. changed from warehouse to factory – occupancy of excessive hazard);
- A fire hydrant system may not have been maintained for many years contrary to the required 3 yearly flow test being done.
Low Rise Residential Buildings:
- Smoke detectors may not of been installed or maintained in the common corridors, these requirements save lives, maintenance checks must be performed in accordance with the occupancy permit conditions;
- Some of the required egress stair fire doors are commonly held open and signage is not lawfully maintained;
- The egress stair fire doors are required to maintain a maximum 10mm gap permitted by AS 1905.1 this sometimes changes with different floor covering being installed over the life of a building;
- The introduction of required exit signage to be installed in a lower basement car park may never have been replaced after vandalism;
- The identification of compromised switch board fire rated walls, broken by unprotected service penetrations;
- Active firefighting equipment and passive systems that may have been tampered with or compromised due to damage or left open at all-times without knowledge;
- Sometimes only the tag record of hydrant maintenance is stamped with no record of level or nature of testing performed.
The next time you go for a walk around your building take note of what you see, remaining vigilant throughout the year ensures the ongoing safety of the people who use the building and will make your annual reporting a breeze.