Demystifying High-Rise Fire Safety - notes from a Resnet Forum | Owners Corporation Network

Demystifying High-Rise Fire Safety - notes from a Resnet Forum


John Harper - Chair

Michael Wynn Jones – Fire Safety Engineer

Don Alexander – Fire Safety Engineer

Matt Shuter – Fire Safety Expert

Stephen O’Brien – Executive Manager, City of Sydney

Luke Farrell, Fire Safety Manager, City of Sydney

Baharak, Neighbourhood Centre Manager, City of Sydney

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Annual Fire Safety Statement

  • An annual fire safety statement is a document that is submitted by the owner to verify to council that each fire safety measure has been maintained and tested and is able to operate at the standard to which it was designed.
  • The inspection of services has to be undertaken within 3 months of the statement expiry date.
  • The inspection has to be done by a properly qualified person, but the extent of this is not specified by legislation.
  • The onus on getting the inspection done is on owners and can be done by agent.
  • This is State Government legislation but is carried out by local government.
  • The requirements are that exits must not be blocked, certain notices must be on display, fire doors must not be obstructed.
  • Council only wants to receive one document, which is logged on the computer.
  • The annual statement was introduced in July 1998.
  • Buildings have to be certified to the level they were designed to operate to.
  • Council is always willing to extend time to comply with a fire order.
  • Council has a duty of care to the community in terms of fire and life safety. If Council take no action and there were a fire, it would have to defend itself in a coroner’s court.
  • The owners’ corporation is legally responsible.
  • Strata managers and building managers need to know what they are doing.
  • Owners’ corporations going out to tender on their fire systems need to understand what is being offered. Lowest price can give lowest quality and least amount of service.
  • Ignorance is not a defence if something goes wrong. Occupational Health and Safety Legislation says that the owners’ corporation is responsible for the safety of the building.

What is required of Inspections?

  • Anything covered by the building code can be a defect.
  • Council receives complaints showing that apartments are not compliant eg cooking smells show that apartments are not compartmentalised and therefore fire can spread. This is the biggest in severity because fire can spread through building and has the biggest cost to fix.

Fire doors

  • People like to change fire doors (locks, peep holes etc) however the initial fire door is tested as a prototype
  • Any changes to fire doors mean a certifier cannot say that a door is certifiable.
  • A certifying tag should be on frame and door.
  • In old buildings there are asbestos cores in the fire doors and a new leaf will be required on the door.
  • Door closes that fall off or are taken off make the door uncertifiable.


  • If there are too many people in an apartment, then the usage has changed and it becomes a hostel arrangement.
  • Legislation says that all measures must be inspected every year.
  • Owners’ corporations should set up rules so that they can inspect all apartments.
  • It’s a tough ask for owners to find a properly qualified person. Council can help but cannot recommend people and does not keep a register.
  • Building professionals act will set up an accreditation system for fire safety professionals for solutions but not inspections.
  • The industry is not regulated and anyone can do the inspection.
  • Council accepts the fire safety statement at face value because owners’ corporations have signed off on them. This does not pass responsibility to council.

What if you discover your building is not as it should be?

  • Environmental Planning and Assessment Act allows self certification. This is an issue in buildings built in last 20 years that have been found to be defective later.
  • Should have more inspections than is required by legislation.
  • Council has to ensure that people are provided with adequate provision for fire safety.
  • Poor workmanship rather than poor design causes fire safety problems (eg poor bricklaying, plumbing etc).
  • If have requirements to boost fire safety in your building you should view that it improves your safety.
  • It is legal to take fire sprinklers out of the design of the building if compliance can be demonstrated.
  • Balustrades and handrails are vital to safety in fires and can be a big hazard if they do not meet the necessary standards.

Defects found after defect period

  • Developers maintain power on owners’ corporations so any maintenance needed gets hidden.
  • 90% of walls in apartments do not go all the way to the top (this can be detected through smells and noise). This cannot be seen because it is above the seal.
  • Anyone can certify at the moment and they can only get so much of a feel of what is happening.
  • Inspections are not happening during construction therefore defects are not found at that time.
  • Private certification system now relies on other parties. This is no different from when Council did it. Current system is broken because it is difficult to go back to the accredited people who did the original work.

Fire Safety Order

  • A fire safety order is a legal document that council issues on owners of a building and sets out reasons why there are problems with the building and sets out works that should be carried out on building to make it safer.
  • The order may not have to be carried out to today’s standards and specifies time in which to do work.
  • A fire safety schedule shows fire services that already exist and what else should exist and the performance standards of these.
  • Council tries very hard to ensure that best person in building receives notice eg strata manager.
  • Owners have 14 days to contact council and discuss the terms of the notice with council. This is the opportunity to ask questions. An order can be modified.
  • There is a right of appeal in the Land and Environment Court.
  • A Council officer does inspections to ensure that works are undertaken to Council requirements.
  • A consultant should be engaged and can give a second opinion or can come up with a more cost effective option.
  • If an order is not complied with the Land and Environment Court will be asked to enforce the order legally.
  • An order can be the result of a complaint from a building practitioner, fire brigade, visitor etc. Council is obliged to investigate any complaint.
  • Council currently does not have the right to investigate buildings.
  • If you get a fire order do not procrastinate. Seek assistance from a professional otherwise it will cost more if the work is urgent.
  • Home warranty insurance provisions can fix defects within a certain period if it can be shown that it is a building defect.

Answers to Audience Questions

  • When seeking a consultant, check their qualifications (as for any other trades person) and check with the Office of Fair Trading if there have been any complaints.
  • Smoke detectors need proper ventilation otherwise they go off. A baffle in front of the detector to stop this. A fire consultant should be able to come up with a solution.
  • Independent audit before the defect period is over should be introduced. There would need to be a lead time so that issues can be fixed before the defect period finishes.
  • Fire doors are common property. Residents are not aware that they should not touch the doors.
  • Buildings should be certified before the building is handed over to the owners. It is unfair that this becomes the responsibility of owners who have to pay to do this.
  • Council does not have a maintenance standard. However there are standards for fire safety measures to ensure they perform to the original standard.
  • In high rise apartments if a door is internal to an apartment it will be a fire door.
  • Planning NSW website information on building professionals.
  • Environmental Assessment Act requires mandatory inspections which does not include fire safety.

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