The building code will bring positive change to Australians
The issue of flammable coatings has been at the fore since the Grenfell Tower tragedy as well as the Lacrosse Tower fire in Melbourne. A number of important legislative changes are underway which will protect both buildings and their occupants.
The National Building Code is due for change in September, with COVID forcing delays from the usual May 1 deadline. A number of changes to the coating regulations are expected. The NCC is updated every three years.
The owner of fire containment company Trafalgar Fire, John Rakic, said upcoming changes to the building code will create major upheavals for the good of the industry.
“These are probably the most significant changes to passive fire protection in the last 50 years and they will have a monumental and positive impact. Many systems sold and installed were fire tested over 30 years ago and do not provide the required protection that modern buildings deserve,” he says.
“It is essential that developers, builders and trades are aware and prepared. Incredibly, before the new standards, any new Class 2 building, such as high-rise apartment buildings, could use 1950s test reports for compliance with passive fire protection. There was no incentive for manufacturers to retest systems to more onerous standards, which halted product innovation.
Passive fire protection slows the spread of fire by separating buildings into fire zones using walls, shafts, floors, ceilings, doors and service passages, including wiring and plumbing. It also gives firefighters the ability to enter a building and contain the fire.
Major Tier 1 builders have been specifying and using systems with the latest fire test requirements for some time. Rakic says Trafalgar Fire has started preparing for the changes.
“We have spent over $3 million to prepare for these changes. 100% of our systems have undergone rigorous new fire resistance tests to meet or exceed current Australian standards. We had to be ready now because buildings being constructed as part of NCC2019 effectively require it if they don’t finish by September 1, 2022.”
In September, manufacturers will be required to fire test to new Australian standards. Previously, there was a grandfather clause that allowed old fire test reports and data to be used for new buildings, but this will now stop on September 1.
“Many builders used to respect handball for different trades, which is inefficient because passive fire protection has to be considered as an overall system. It was impractical for certifiers or building inspectors to check every penetration on site and they had to accept trade-specific certification for compliance. This has led to some poor and non-compliant installations being approved. Builders just didn’t want to know, because their contracts would require tradespeople to certify,” says Rakic.
“Ultimately, this led to serious problems that cost condominium organizations and building owners a lot of money. Some builders would avoid liability by liquidating their business, leaving building owners or co-owners with big bills. Of course, it is ordinary Australians who end up paying. Something had to change.
Rakic believes an increased focus on passive fire protection through mandatory inspections, legislative changes and dedicated building commissioners will improve the built environment for Australians.
“There is now more impetus for buildings to be designed smarter and safer and we see people looking for solutions that are versatile and compliant with local fire regulations in Australia. Ultimately, this will lead to better and safer buildings. Hopefully this will prevent avoidable tragedies.