Fireproof your property with body corporate fire safety

Fireproof your property with body corporate fire safety article header image

Fireproof your property with body corporate fire safety

No compromise when it comes to fire safety and protecting lives

 

From 2018 to 2019 Queensland’s Fire and Emergency Services attended to more than 2,607 structural fires. Of that number, 1,853 were for residential buildings; contributing to Australia’s annual building fire fatality rate, which is more than fifty Australians every year.

Most owners and committees, however, view building fires as something that probably won’t happen to them. If a fire does occur, the risk to occupants can be increased if people don’t wake up in time to escape. Likewise, if a building isn’t maintained for fire evacuation processes and paths, the building can be a significant risk to the fire safety personnel who enter to fight the blaze.

If a fire does occur, the risk to occupants can be increased if people don’t wake up in time to escape due to outdated fire alarms or cannot get out of the building due to a lack of maintenance. Likewise, if a building isn’t maintained for fire evacuation processes and paths, the building can act as a significant risk to the fire safety personnel who enter to fight the blaze.

All body corporates have fire safety obligations. They must ensure their building has the appropriate safety standards for building occupants and that their fire safety installations are effective in the event of a fire. Heavy penalties apply for non-compliance.

What’s more, in a bid to reduce Queensland’s residential building fire fatalities, new photoelectric smoke alarms must be installed in all rented residential properties by 1 January 2022. Otherwise, it will not be legal to rent the property. Likewise, owner-occupiers must change smoke alarms too, but the compliance date for all existing private homes, townhouses and units is 1 January 2027.

PICA Group helps to address 2 main questions when it comes to body corporate fire safety:

  1. What are the fire safety obligations for a body corporate?
  2. The cost of non-compliance

What are the fire safety obligations for a body corporate?

The Building Code of Australia sets out the definitions of the different classes of buildings. Bodies corporate must ensure the following compliance requirements are met annually:

  • All fire safety installations must be tested and maintained

In Queensland, a fire safety installation is the term given to fire safety measures and includes:

  • Structure features such as fire windows, fire doors, dampers
  • Fire protection systems such as sprinklers, and stairwell pressurisation systems
  • Firefighting equipment such as fire extinguishers, hydrants, and reels
  • Occupant safety features such as fire signage, emergency lighting and vehicle access

All bodies corporate must ensure all fire safety installations are maintained. The Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008 sets out the penalties for non-compliance with the code – up to 30 penalty units.

 

  • An occupiers statement must be completed

An occupiers statement is a summary of the testing and maintenance performed on the fire installations.

The various licensed providers that are engaged to maintain the fire equipment within the building, provide an Annual System Condition containing details of all testing and maintenance work completed on an item. The details of each report are entered into the occupiers statement, is signed by a representative of the body corporate, and a copy is sent annually to the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFRS).

 

  • Ensure evacuation routes are clear and safe

Evacuation routes must be managed so that they are always available, not obstructed and well signed. The evacuation routes of a building are outlined in the body corporate fire and evacuation plan and diagrams. Paths of escape must always remain compliant and inspected at least annually.

The Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008 specifies that:

  • Evacuation routes must be kept free from obstructions
  • Locks and handles on any doors on the evacuation route must be compliant
  • Evacuation routes must be kept isolated (not alterations are permitted to any ventilation or air conditioning system that allows air flow onto an evacuation route).
  • The fire and safety evacuation plan must be reviewed annually

Fire and evacuation plans must be produced by someone licensed with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission and be kept on-site with a copy also kept off-site (usually with the body corporate manager or building manager).

 

  • Appointment of an evacuation co-ordinator

The appointed coordinator must live in the building, and complete quarterly Fire and Evacuation training.

 

  • An evacuation practice must be performed annually

Evacuation practices must be carried out annually in any building not classified as a class 1a building (a single detached home).

 

  • All records/documents must be stored for easy referencing

Fire records and accompanying documents must be kept on-site and available for QFRS inspection, and a copy of records must be also kept off-site.

Records required to be stored include:

  • Fire and evacuation plan
  • Training records
  • Evacuation practice record
  • Records of maintenance
  • Occupier statement
  • Certificate of classification.

The cost of non-compliance

Recent tests have shown that fires in modern buildings burn at a rate eight times faster than 50 years ago, so it is vitally important that bodies corporate take fire safety seriously and ensure their building is always compliant.

Besides the heavy penalties imposed by Building Fire Safety Regulations, bodies corporate should also consider the other implications for non-compliance such as:

  • The fine would be an expense that is not budgeted for and in that event, a special levy may be required
  • Insurance cover, including office bearers’ liability, may not cover fines imposed
  • Insurers that are made aware that a body corporate had been fined for non-compliance may decide to decline to renew the insurance policy or set the premium to take account of any perceived increased risk
  • If a fire occurred and it was evident that the fire safety systems were not maintained, the body corporate may be open to liability, and the insurance may be voided for failing to comply with fire safety legislation, leaving owners to pay for the cost of rectification works.

 

Last but certainly not least, body corporates should seek expert fire advice to make sure systems are compliant, reliable and safe. Fire systems should always be installed, checked and maintained by properly certified professionals.

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Legislation update

2022 deadline for interconnected smoke alarms

The Queensland Government introduced new smoke alarm laws to reduce the incidences of people not waking in time to escape fires. By January 2022, dwellings that are being sold, leased or an existing lease renewed, must be fitted with photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms on each level, bedroom, and hallway that connects bedrooms, so they all activate together.

If you’d like to find out more on building compliance for your body corporate, click here to download our FREE building compliance guide. Or, if this raises a cause to review your common property insurance our CommunitySure insurance team can assist you. Click here to get started.


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