Fire safety in buildings

Fire safety is an integral part of the building and development process. Mandatory certificates and statements can be downloaded from the NSW Planning website

Fire Safety Certificate

A Fire Safety Certificate is a certificate submitted by, or on behalf of, the building owner which certifies that the specified essential fire safety measures have been installed and perform in accordance with the relevant Building Code of Australia requirements and Australian Standards.

A Fire Safety Certificate is required to be submitted to the Council prior to the occupation of a new building, or part of a building, and upon completing works required under a Council fire safety order. The owner of a building must also submit a fire safety statement to the Council on an annual basis.

Fire Safety Statement

A Fire Safety Statement is similar to the Fire Safety Certificate.  It certifies that the essential fire safety measures have been tested, are currently operational and have been maintained in accordance with the relevant requirements and standards.   

A copy of the Fire Safety Certificate and Fire Safety Statement are required to be displayed within the building in a conspicuous position and a copy must be forwarded to the NSW Fire Brigade.

Essential fire safety measures

Essential fire safety measures are the systems required by the Building Code of Australia to be installed in boarding houses, hostel, bed and breakfasts, commercial, industrial and public buildings to ensure the safety of the occupants in the event of a fire or an emergency.

The legislation lists statutory fire safety measures as:

  • access panels, doors and hoppers to fire-resisting shafts
  • automatic fail-safe devices
  • automatic fire detection and alarm systems
  • automatic fire suppression systems
  • emergency lifts
  • emergency lighting
  • emergency warning and intercommunication systems
  • exit signs
  • fire control centres and rooms
  • fire dampers
  • fire doors
  • fire hose reel systems
  • fire hydrant systems
  • fire seals protecting openings in fire-resisting components of the building
  • fire shutters
  • fire windows
  • lightweight construction
  • mechanical air handling systems
  • perimeter vehicle access for emergency vehicles
  • portable fire extinguishers
  • safety curtains in proscenium openings
  • smoke alarms and heat alarms
  • smoke and heat vents
  • smoke dampers
  • smoke detectors and heat detectors
  • smoke doors
  • solid core doors
  • standby power systems
  • wall-wetting sprinkler and drenching systems
  • warning and operational signs

Legislation mandates that essential fire safety measures must be maintained and regular and set intervals.

There can be other essential fire safety measure listed for your building/premises depending on whether alternate solutions have been considered as part of the construction of the building or premise.

A fire safety schedule, interim/final fire safety certificate or annual fire safety statement issued for the building lists all the essential fire safety measures that are installed in the building and the performance standard to which each of those measures must be capable of operating.

 

Interim fire safety certificates

An Interim Fire Safety Certificate is issued by the owner of a building (usually at the application for an interim occupation certificate) to indicate that each essential fire safety measure outlined in the current fire safety schedule for a specific part of the building to which the certificate relates has:

  • been assessed by a properly qualified person
  • found, on assessment, to be capable of performing to at least the standard required by the current fire safety schedule for the building

The assessment of the fire safety measures must be carried out within a period three months prior to the date on which the interim fire safety certificate is issued. A copy of the Interim Fire Safety Certificate must be forwarded to the Commissioner of Fire & Rescue NSW and the property owner must ensure a copy of the Interim Fire Safety Certificate, together with a current copy of the Fire Safety Schedule, is prominently displayed within the building.

Final fire safety certificates

A Final Fire Safety Certificate is issued by the owner of the building (usually at the application for a final occupation certificate) upon completion of the building works or changes of use. It specifies that a properly qualified person has assessed the building and found that fire safety measures have been properly implemented and are capable of performing to a standard not less than that required by the Fire Safety Schedule for the specific part of the building to which the certificate relates.

The assessment of the fire safety measures must be carried out within a period three months prior to the date on which the Final Fire Safety Certificate is issued. A copy of the Final Fire Safety Certificate must be forwarded to the Commissioner of Fire & Rescue NSW and the property owner must ensure a copy of the Final Fire Safety Certificate, together with a current copy of the Fire Safety Schedule, is prominently displayed within the building.

Fire safety upgrades

Council may require safety upgrades to a premises if a building does not comply with fire safety regulations.

Fire safety audits

Council may undertake Fire Safety Audits to ensure buildings within the Byron Shire meet an acceptable level of fire safety. The purpose of this audit program is to:

  • increase the safety of occupants within the building in the event of a fire
  • ensure compliance with statutory requirements
  • make sure that the maintenance and use of a building do not constitute a fire hazard.

Council conducts random fire safety audit inspections, with priority given to buildings that pose the greatest risk to human life because of the way the buildings are used and the number of people using it (e.g. hotels, boarding houses and residential flat buildings). Council will also conduct fire safety inspections when fire safety issues are brought to our attention.

The process

Council will conduct a fire safety audit inspection in conjunction with the manager/owner/agent of the building. We will liaise and consult with the property owner about any issues identified during the inspection.

A notice to upgrade the building will be issued if it is Council's opinion that:

  • the provisions for fire safety or fire safety awareness are not adequate to prevent fire, suppress fire or prevent the spread of fire or ensure the safety of the people in the building in the event of fire
  • essential fire safety measures are not being maintained
  • use of the premises constitutes a significant fire hazard.

In cases where the owner/occupier has shown a disregard for fire safety, a fine may be issued.

The draft order will indicate a schedule of works to be carried out within a specified time period.

A fire safety assessment report of the building by an independent and qualified building consultant or fire safety engineer may also be required. This report must compare the level of fire safety in the building against the current requirements of the Building Code of Australia. Where deficiencies are identified, recommendations will be made on how to achieve acceptable levels of fire protection.

In many cases, it is not practical to achieve strict compliance with the current requirements of the Building Code of Australia. Assessment using the performance clauses of the Building Code of Australia may provide a means of determining an acceptable level of fire safety.

Once the notice/order has been issued

The owner of the building is responsible for complying with a notice or an order. Where there is more than one owner, Council may direct each owner to carry out the works specified in the order.

Penalties, of up to $1.1 million, can be imposed by the courts when the work listed in a fire safety order is not carried out.

We will inspect the premises upon completion of the works, as noted in the notice/order. The owner or an agent will be required to submit a Final Fire Safety Certificate for any ordered works. Upon receipt of certification and if satisfied the works have been completed, Council will advise in writing of the completion of the works.

 

Heritage and fire safety

Some buildings require the balancing of current fire safety requirements with heritage concerns. We will work with the building owners to address fire safety issues sympathetically with the building's heritage. The NSW Government has a fire advisory panel that can help owners of heritage buildings with fire compliance issues.

While we will negotiate compromises against the Building Code of Australia, we will not compromise on building and occupant safety if the fire safety issue presents an unacceptable fire safety risk.

Our primary objective is to improve the fire safety provisions of the building and alternative solutions may be considered or a dispensation agreed upon with the building owner.

Common fire safety issues and tips

Common fire safety issues

  • Obstruction of exits and walkways to required fire exits and fire-fighting equipment.
  • Non-compliant locking devices on exit doors.
  • Hose reel cabinets, switch rooms and plant rooms used for storage.
  • Materials stored to close to smoke detectors and sprinkler heads.
  • Exit signs not illuminated.
  • Fire doors and doors to residential units chocked/held open.
  • Essential fire safety measures not maintained adequately

Fire safety tips

  • Clearly define exit routes, keeping walkways to the exits a minimum of one metre wide.
  • Keep clear a one-metre square space around an internal fire hydrant or fire hose reel and do not obstruct access to any portable fire extinguisher.
  • Ensure that any locking devices on exit doors, comply with the requirements of Clause D2.21 of the Building Code of Australia. A single-handed downward lever action handle or push (panic) bar are permitted. Internal knobs or turn nibs are not permitted. Key locking in not permissible on the egress side (inside) of the door and only one lock per door is permissible. Levers and locks must be fitted at a height of between 900mm and 1100mm from the floor level.
  • Remove any objects stored in hose reel cabinets, switch rooms or plant rooms.
  • Materials in stacks or racks must not be closer than 500mm from any smoke detector or sprinkler head.
  • Promptly replace burnt tubes or globes in illuminated exit signs and emergency lighting.
  • Keep fire-rated doors i.e. those protecting the door openings on firewalls or fire-isolated stairs and doors to residential units closed. Keeping them open may cause smoke/fire to enter a building/unit reducing the chance for escape.
  • Undertake regular maintenance of essential fire safety measures (link to new page in staging) by a reputable person or company.
  • Adopt emergency evacuation procedures, with periodic review of these procedures. Train staff on how to use fire-fighting equipment. Practice fire drills. Carry out regular workplace safety audits.

Smoke alarms

Smoke alarms are simple and effective devices that can help save lives by providing building occupants with an early warning of the presence of a fire, giving them time to escape. Smoke alarms can also help reduce property damage through earlier fire brigade intervention.

It is mandatory for alarms to be installed in:

  • every storey of all homes and other shared accommodation buildings, including boarding houses and residential flat buildings, where people sleep
  • moveable dwellings, including caravans, campervans, holiday vans, park van annexes and associated structures

Fines apply if no smoke alarm is installed within the premises or moveable dwelling. It is also an offence to interfere with or remove a smoke alarm unless it is for the purpose of maintenance or replacement of the smoke alarm.

What type of smoke alarms should be used?

All smoke alarms must comply with Australian Standard AS3786:

  • hardwired 240-volts smoke alarm with battery backup (ionisation or photoelectric types).

You must have a licensed electrician install hardwired smoke alarms. Hardwired smoke alarms can be interlinked together so that they sound together.

Dwellings, alterations, and additions build since 1993 must have hardwired smoke alarms to comply with the Building Code of Australia.

Where should you install smoke alarms?

Refer to the NSW Government guidelines for information on the required locations of smoke alarms.