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

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

Panel:

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

[toc title:Topics; minlevel:3]

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.

Overcrowding

  • 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.

What Members Say

"The whole strata community owes a huge debt of gratitude to you and the OCN executive. Much appreciated."

Robert, Darlinghurst

"I am very pleased with my membership of OCN, the discussions through sharing emails is very valuable in increasing my knowledge of strata living, the laws and EC responsibilities. I think I am better armed to tread the minefield of the managing agent responsibilities and the necessary action of the EC to monitor the contradictory interests of the agent."

Jim, Wollstonecraft

"I so appreciate being part of the OCN email forum. It provides a great opportunity for sharing ideas and learning"

Ingrid, Neutral Bay

"I must say that I have enjoyed and found consolation in the discussions that have been part of the email chain (forum). I did attend one general meeting and found that it was informative and the people "running the show" were knowledgeable and dedicated to the tasks that had taken on. In short, well done. You and the committee have and continue to support the Strata Community in a very professional manner."

Greg, Parramatta

"Nothing is easy in Strata World and we have been in building defects “mode” for some years – hopefully almost at an end but that process has been most demanding and difficult but again – greatly helped by the experience and wise counsel of other members of OCN."

Pat, St Leonards

"Keep up the good work, as many (if not most) strata schemes need your help, advice and representation at all levels of government."

Jann and John, St Ives

"I belong to OCN because of its professionalism.  I have found the meetings I have been to extremely well presented, to the point, and of course very topical and informative. Speakers on the whole certainly know their topic.  My role of Secretary last year was certainly assisted with the coverage regarding TPG & other subjects. Member newsletters are also of benefit as the topics are specific to strata matters."

Graham, East Balmain

I have enjoyed attending the quarterly OCN meetings and the exchange of emails between other Executive Committee Members and think OCN is playing an increasingly important role as a voice for strata dwellers and representing us at Government level. I wish the organisation continuing success in the future."

Pauline, Kings Cross

"The [forum] response to my question was amazing and really useful.  The OCN community is wonderful so thanks."

Jenny, Killara

"I would like to thank you all for the important effort that you are all putting in to look after apartment owners and tenants. It is so valuable and you are heroes. I would not have been able to deal with my duties as a strata chairman without your advice and assistance." 

Angela, Mascot

"The OCN is invaluable – many thanks."

Bill, Surry Hills

"OCN is proving invaluable"

Sue, Neutral Bay

"Thanks to all at OCN for your continuing efforts to keep us up to date with current strata information and advice...it has been very helpful to us"

Kate, Coogee

"When my wife & I first encountered a problematic Executive Committee I heard that OCN was a great help (from a Strata manager whom I knew) so we both joined and have gratefully used the on-line information sources. We continued to happily rely on OCN’s assistance when we progressed to Committee status & later as Chair & Secretary of our Committee. I still use OCN in my current role as Treasurer."

Peter, Chiswick

"Thanks to OCN for being such a rich resource of trustworthy information about strata matters."

Peter, Chiswick

"I wanted to extend my personal thanks for the very informative & interesting event today. The OCN team did an outstanding job in the organisation of this event & I enjoyed it thoroughly. The quality of speakers, the flow of conversation & interaction from the attendees - first class …& of course, the amazing Jimmy T - always a delight."

Sue, Epping

"OCN does a great job in providing a really valuable service to Strata owners."

Lois, Wollongong

"I am sure my appreciation of your good works is echoed by many in the Stratasphere. Keep up the good work."

John, Elizabeth Bay

"The OCN is probably one of the best, most informed and most informative groups I have been involved with."

Alan, Maryville

"Once again, being able to discuss such things through this forum, helps clear the mind, puts things into perspective and helps one to understand their rights and to form a strategy if needs be. As a simple EC member trying to do what is in the best interests of lot owners, I truly value OCN and am grateful."

Pamela, Point Lookout