Is Your Company in Breach of Statutory Requirements for Essential Services?

Posted on 06/03/2017 by rheywood

RiskTech conducts numerous property and building audits for clients to confirm building compliance and fire protection adequacy and maintenance which includes emergency procedures and systems designed to ensure safe egress in the event of fire or other emergency. However, we rarely find a major property which is not in breach of the statutory BCA building requirements. We regularly uncover situations where:

  • Fire Exit Doors are obstructed and or signage is non-compliant;
  • Fire Egress routes are obstructed or Emergency Exit Lighting is non-compliant;
  • Annual Flow Tests for sprinkler or hydrant systems are not conducted or not conducted correctly; and
  • Instances where there has been a failure to submit a Development Application and fire services or equipment have not been appropriately upgraded.  

All of the above situations are a failure of management’s ‘Duty of Care’ to provide a safe workplace and are also a breach of the minimum BCA building statutory requirements and as a result put Director’s liability at risk.


National Construction Codes, NCC 2016 Building Code of Australia (BCA) details the essential services required for Fire Resistance (Section C), Access and Egress (Section D) and Services and Equipment (Section E).

Although the building regulations do not apply retrospectively, the maintenance of the required BCA essential services as per the appropriate Australian standards is a mandatory requirement. The authorities of jurisdiction include the local council, the fire brigade services and state governments.

Needless to say there is considerable variance from state to state or Australian Territory, in regard to the interpretation and ongoing requirements for essential services. For example Victoria draws a distinction between buildings constructed from 1 May, 2004, between 1 July, 1994 and 30 April, 2004 and buildings constructed prior to 1 July, 1994. (Refer to the Victorian Government’s Essential Services Safety Measures – Maintenance Manual)

Although reporting requirements such as Annual Fire Safety Statements or Annual Essential Safety Measures Reports may vary from state to state or territory or council to council, one constant which remains is the ‘Duty of Care’ for managers to maintain a safe work place for staff and visitors which includes safe egress in the event of an emergency. 

This document highlights our experience where the maintenance of essential services has often been found to be substandard and or a clear breach of the BCA statutory requirements.

 Essential Services

Fire Resistance (BCA Section C)

The Objective of this Section in summary is to safeguard:

1.    People from injury due to a fire in a building or while evacuating a building during a fire;

2.    To facilitate the activities of emergency services personnel;

3.    To avoid the spread of fire between buildings; and

4.    To protect other property from physical damage caused by structural failure of a building as a result of fire.

Major Considerations

For existing buildings, this may include fire wall separation from neighbouring properties and or fire wall separation (compartmentation) for large floor areas within a large building or critical areas such as Main Switch Rooms or Boiler Rooms. The main maintenance considerations are as follows:

1.    Fire Door Operation maintenance as per AS1851.

2.    Fire resistance integrity of cable and pipe penetrations through fire walls needs to be maintained using fire pillows and or sealants which satisfy AS 1530; and

3.    External wall fire resistance level, FRL construction needs to be maintained to protect neighbouring properties and or fire egress routes.


Common Problems Encountered

1.    Fire Door Damage - Fire doors are often found to be damaged due to impact.

Note: Automatic fire door or smoke door operation under fire conditions (Full Function Testing) should be conducted annually.

2.    Fire Doors Obstruction - Fire doors are regularly blocked open due to project or maintenance work by contractors or staff for ease of access.

Note: This is a breach of statutory BCA regulations and in some states a finable offence.

3.    Service Penetrations - Cable and or pipe penetrations due to maintenance or upgrade work have not been properly sealed compromising the FRL (fire resistance level) integrity.

Note: Fire resistance integrity is often disturbed during new projects or upgrade work. Even small gaps in a cable or pipe penetration can result in burning embers spreading from one fire compartment to another.

4.    Cable Trenches - Cable trenches for external transformer cable supply are not sealed and in the event of a transformer fire/explosion may allow a burning oil fire beneath the Main Switchboard.

Note: The loss of a main switchboard can result in a 3 month business interruption.

5.    External Storage - External idle pallet or combustible waste storage can compromise BCA requirements and be a ready target for arsonists. This can result in major property damage and liability issues for management where neighbouring properties are damaged.


Access and Egress (BCA Section D)

The Objective of this Section in summary is to:

1.    Provide as far as is reasonable, people with safe, equitable and dignified (for disabled persons) access to a building and the services and facilities within a building; and

2.    To safeguard occupants from illness or injury while evacuating in an emergency.

Note: BCA Section D incorporates Compliance with Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA). Section 23 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) makes it unlawful to discriminate against another person on the ground of the person’s disability in relation to a number of aspects of access to, or use of, premises.

Major Considerations

Generally for existing buildings access is required to be provided, to enable people to approach the building from the road boundary, from any accessible car parking spaces associated with the building and to approach the building from an accessible associated building.

So that people can move safely to and within a building, it is required to have:

1.    Walking surfaces with safe gradients and any doors installed to avoid the risk of occupants having their egress impeded or being trapped in the building;

2.    Any stairways and ramps with slip-resistant walking surfaces on ramps and stairway treads or near the edge of the nosing;

3.    Suitable handrails where necessary to assist and provide stability to people using the stairway or ramp; and

4.    Landings where a door opens from or onto the stairway or ramp so that the door does not create an obstruction and in the case of a stairway, suitable safe passage in relation to the nature, volume and frequency of likely usage.

5.    Where people could fall 1 m or more from a floor or roof or through an opening or due to a sudden change of level within or associated with a building a barrier must be provided.

6.    For most industrial and commercial buildings not less than 2 exits must be provided.

7.    Fire isolated stairs are required for buildings which exceed 25 m in height.

8.    The travel distance to a fire isolated exit should not exceed 40 m for most industrial and commercial buildings where travel in different directions to 2 exits is available. (refer to Sections D1.2, D1.3, 1.4 and 1.5).

9.    Fire Exit doors are required to be clearly sign posted on both sides indicating “FIRE SAFETY DOOR—DO NOT OBSTRUCT”; or for a self-closing door “FIRE SAFETY DOOR—DO NOT OBSTRUCT, DO NOT KEEP OPEN”;

Note: A number of the above requirements may not have been required at the time of construction and the BCA requirements do not apply retrospectively. However, by large they are considered good risk management advice and their implementation would involve minimal cost.


Common Problems Encountered

1.    Trip and Fall Hazards - Pot holes and trip hazards in car parking areas or for pedestrian walkways can result in trip or fall incidents and subsequent liability claims.

2.    Balustrades/Handrails - We often come across a lack of adequate balustrades and or handrails for steps and landings or a lack of slip resistance measures which can result in trip and fall injuries.

Note: Slip resistant, high visibility strips for steps can greatly reduce fall hazards with stairways.

3.    Egress Routes - Pedestrian walkways which would represent the main egress routes are often not clearly marked and or obstructed by storage.

4.    Secured Fire Exit Doors - For security reasons fire exits doors are often found to be locked, however it is a statutory requirement for egress to be available in the event of fire when the building is occupied.

Note: This is normally achieved by arranging automatic release in the event of an emergency, fire or evacuation alarm.

5.    Occupancy Changes - Changes to production lines or storage arrangements can affect the maximum egress distance or available access to required exits which may result in a statutory infringement. 

Note: Generally a minimum of 1 m access width for egress routes and exits and a maximum distance of 40 m to one of two different exits is required.

6.    Fire Exit Door Signage - It is not uncommon to find Fire Exit Doors without the appropriate signage either as it was not a requirement at the time of construction or due to wear and tear.


Services and Equipment (BCA Section E)

The Objective of this Part is to:

1.    Safeguard occupants from illness or injury while evacuating during a fire;

2.    Provide facilities for occupants and the fire brigade to undertake fire-fighting operations; and

3.    Prevent the spread of fire between buildings.

 Major Considerations

For existing buildings fire fighting equipment is required to be provided, to allow occupants to attack a fire during its early stages. Provision of this equipment often helps occupants to either extinguish or limit the development of a fire before the fire brigade arrives.

Facilities to assist the fire brigade in stopping or limiting the spread of fire must also be provided. Essential services and equipment includes:

1.    Fire hydrants which must be installed in accordance with AS 2419.1;

2.    Fire hose reels which must be provided internally, externally or in combination, to achieve the system coverage specified in AS 2441;

3.    Sprinkler protection systems are required for buildings which exceed 25 m in height or occupancies of excessive hazard In fire compartments where either the floor area is more than 2,000 m2 or the volume is more than 12,000 m3. Excessive hazard includes foam plastic goods manufacture and the warehouse storage of combustible goods with an aggregate volume exceeding 1000 m3 and stored to a height greater than 4 m.

Sprinkler fire protection systems are generally required to comply with AS 2118.

4.    Portable fire extinguishers must be provided and be selected, located and distributed in accordance with Sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 of AS 2444.

5.    A fire control centre facility which includes the Main Fire Indicating Panel, MFIP and Emergency Warning Sound System must be provided for a building with an effective height of more than 25 m and an industrial or commercial building with a total floor area of more than 18 000 m2.

6.    A smoke detection system may be required to activate air pressurisation systems for fire-isolated exits and zone smoke control systems and must be installed in accordance with AS 1670.1.

7.    Smoke Hazard Management System may be required to ensure that any evacuation route is maintained so that the temperature or level of toxicity (from smoke) will not endanger human life.

8.    Emergency Lighting Exit Signs and Warning Systems must be provided to facilitate safe evacuation in an emergency.

9.    Fire fighting services and equipment are required to be maintained by the BCA statutory regulations in accordance to AS 1851 and the applicable Australian Standards.


Common Problems Encountered

1.    Fire hydrants - Hydrants are required to be tested at the most remote hydrants to confirm that the minimum flow and pressure requirement is provided on an annual basis. However, we often find that flow tests are not conducted or are conducted incorrectly due to an inadequate number of calibrated hydrant flow test units and or personnel.

Note: The standard fire protection maintenance contract requires testing of hydrant systems as per AS 1851 which should include annual flow testing i.e. this is a service which is being paid for.

2.    Fire Protection Control Valves - Fire protection control valves are required to be operated on an annual basis and fully serviced on a 5 yearly basis. This is another paid for maintenance service we often find is omitted.

Note: This is also a service being paid for which we find is often not being provided.

3.    Hydrant Block plans which provide the Fire Brigade an overview of the hydrant system and water supply are often not provided or are illegible. For outside locations a weather proof Block Plan such as a metal etched plate is recommended.

4.    Fire Hose Reels are often used for wash down purposes. However, this usually results in the hose not being re-wound correctly and or the nozzle not secured within the control valve assembly.

5.    Sprinkler Systems are designed specifically to suit the occupancy at the time of construction. Storage less than 4 m high may not require sprinkler protection to meet BCA requirements. However, as companies expand additional storage height and or space is required. This can either result in a sprinkler protection system now being required or render an existing sprinkler system inadequate for the fire hazard presented. In either case it is would be a major breach of statutory BCA requirements.

Note: Often it is not realised that a simple increase of storage height or change of storage commodity requires a Development Application to be submitted and a review to be conducted by a fire protection engineer. Changes of occupancy and storage may also be a disclosure requirement to notify property insurers as a condition of insurance.

6.    Smoke Hazard Management Systems where required should be provided with Full Function Tests on an annual basis. This will require both fire protection and air-conditioning contractors to be present for testing. Unfortunately, we often find Full Function Tests are not properly conducted or are neglected.

7.    Fire Exit Signs/Lighting and Warning Sound Alarm Systems are required to assist occupants to evacuate in the event of fire or other emergency. In the event of fire, electrical supplies and normal lighting can be cut off. However, we often find a disparity of signs or inadequate emergency lighting is provided. In addition, there may be an inadequate number or non-operational illuminated Fire Exit/ Emergency Lights (battery back-up type) provided.

Note: Although emergency Exit Signs/Lighting systems may have been acceptable at the time of construction, the BCA principle of providing an acceptable emergency standard of visibility still applies.


Technical advances make compliance with the current NCC 2016 BCA requirements for emergency lighting more affordable to implement.