Ensuring the fire safety of buildings is now a prime focus for owners of strata title and company title buildings. In fact, some owners have a legal obligation under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 to engage in a process that objectively verifies that the building is fire compliant.

The requirement for an Annual Fire Safety Certificate

The owners of a building must provide an Annual Fire Safety Statement to their local Council. The purpose of the statement is to confirm that a qualified fire safety practitioner has inspected and verified the fire safety measures in the building. This inspection includes fire safety measures contained within the common property of the building as well as fire safety measures installed in each apartment.

Annual fire safety statements must be issued to Council at every 12 months.

For any critical fire safety measures, a supplementary fire safety certificate is required

Choosing the right fire safety practitioner – the new accreditation scheme

Recent reforms to the industry accreditation scheme for competent fire safety practitioners will as from 1 July impose an additional administrative burden on building owners.

Previously, the owner of the building (usually the managing agent, on behalf of the Owners Corporation or Board of Directors) had to be satisfied that the fire safety inspector was competent and capable of conducting the check. However, the ‘competence’ of a fire safety inspector was not adequately defined or measurable as there was no formal accreditation scheme.

As from 1 July 2020 a Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme (FPAS) will apply.  Under the new FPAS scheme, only those persons accredited as ‘competent fire safety practitioners under the Fire Protection Association Australia Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme’ are authorised to issue Annual Fire Safety Certificates. This means that there is an official register of accredited fire safety practitioners, that allows owners to objectively verify the competence of their nominated certifier. Search the Register here.

The intent of the new accreditation scheme is to strengthen the professionalism, quality and expertise of the building regulation scheme and ensure that all buildings are fire compliant.

What does this mean for your Annual Fire Safety Checks?

The new scheme gives rise to two important considerations:

  1. First, the owner of a building must ensure that their nominated certifier is accredited through the Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme (FPAS). This information is now available through the public record and accessible through the FPAS Accreditation Register.
  2. Second, the owner of a building must ensure that the nominated certifier is accredited to inspect the different types of fire safety measure devices installed in the building. There are different classes of work, and not all inspectors are accredited to endorse each class of work. For example, an inspector may be accredited to endorse fire detection devices but are not accredited to endorse fire sprinkler systems.

This requires owners to actively consider the type of fire safety measures installed throughout their building and engage a practitioner who is qualified in each area.

There are three different classes of work to consider:

  • Fire Sprinkler Systems;
  • Fire Hydrant and Hose Reel Systems; and
  • Fire Detection and Alarm Systems.

It is important that owners (or their manager) check that the nominated Fire Safety Practitioner is accredited in the relevant classes of work.

Issuing an Annual Fire Safety Statement in light of COVID 19

Obtaining access to apartments during the COVID 19 environment could be difficult. Some occupants may be self-isolating and may not provide access to fire safety practitioners. This could delay the issuing of fire safety. Ultimately, failing to provide a statement could expose a building to significant fines ranging from $1,000 to $4,000.

Inspections can still be carried out in the common areas of the building and information should still be lodged with Council based on the information available to the fire inspector.

However, if this issue arises for your building, you should contact your local Council directly for an extension. Most Council’s have discretion to stay the issuing of a Penalty Infringement Notice in circumstances where there is a legitimate, unanticipated site event/circumstance. This could extend to the quarantine measures arising from COVID 19.

Take away

Owners of buildings must ensure that they conduct their due diligence and check that they have engaged an accredited fire safety practitioner.

What to do next

If you have any questions in relation to the new accreditation scheme and what this means for your building, contact us on the details below:

  • John Morrissey on 0407 069 507 or
  • Mariam Chalak on 0410 914 128

Both John and Mariam have transitioned to work arrangements that will ensure they remain available to help you through these times.

If you would rather get in contact through email, send your questions through to Mariam at mariam.chalak@jfmlaw.com.au.