The eight key elements of your fire safety responsibilities

engineer contractor holding red helmet with fire protection system at the back

As a building owner, agent or manager, you have certain fire safety responsibilities. Whilst DEM Fire can assist you with comprehensive solution design, system installation, asset management and fire compliance, it is essential that you fully understand your obligations.

Campbell Steer, DEM Fire’s Head of Service Delivery, explains that whilst the size and nature of customer property varies, the fundamental responsibilities remain the same.

“There are priorities around property owners, managers and institutions when it comes to risk profile for fire, and these priorities are consistent across different asset classes.”

Campbell has a thorough understanding of the client and contract perspective with over 25 years in Asset Management and Operations Facilities Management for Mirvac, Haden Engineering and the University of Sydney. He has held senior national roles across all asset classes managing commercial, retail, industrial and tertiary property.

Here he provides an overview of the eight key elements of commercial, retail and residential fire protection responsibilities.

Sprinkler placed on the roof of a house

1. Life and property

In fire prevention, the overriding focus is life and property, with the key imperative being the safety of the people who live within, work in and visit your property.

“Your first priority needs to be the safety of your tenants, the public and any contractors operating in the building,” explains Campbell. “The priority is around the individuals and getting them out of the building swiftly and safely in the event of an outbreak.

After that comes property. It’s also important to remember that fire damage is not just about repair costs. Any damage may also mean your property is inaccessible, there may be an investigation by the fire brigade and your insurance provider, and there are the related outflows in terms of income loss and ongoing costs.”

2. Duty of care

Every property owner has an obligatory duty of care to protect the people within the property. This is enshrined in SafeWork NSW guidelines which stipulate that every employee or PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) must eliminate, as is reasonably possible, any health and safety risks in the workplace.

“This is all-encompassing,” says Campbell. “It’s the law under safe work regulations, and it’s an essential element of public liability and insurance.”

Businessman working on his laptop, calculating data and graph

3. Compliance and building certification

Following on from your duty of care to protect people and property is an obligatory layer of compliance and certification. State Government bodies establish compliance guidelines to preserve adequate standards across the industry, and as such it is a legal requirement that you ensure your property is compliant with NSW government regulations.

“This is applicable whether you are an owner or an owners’ representative such as a facility manager. You may know nothing about compliance, but ignorance is not a legal defence,” adds Campbell.

4. Insurance and financial requirements

Maintaining a fully compliant property is also essential for property insurance purposes. An insurer may void your policy or fail to pay in the event of fire damage if they determine that you have failed to maintain essential compliance.

“If a building owner failed to repair a sprinkler system for instance, and an outbreak occurred, what might have been a $2,000 fix could instead mean a $500,000 bill for repairs and rebuilding after a fire,” says Campbell.

“Additionally, a landlord might have to pay for tenants’ relocation costs and costs associated with breaking a lease on top of the repair and rebuild outlay.”

Man wearing hard hat, checking the red pipes

5. Reputational risk

For public companies, failure to adequately meet your financial and compliance requirements can have a flow-on effect in terms of reputational risk, given public companies are required to disclose financial records and have a duty to shareholders. Campbell explains:

“This is not as key for a private owner, but public naming and shaming is a significant risk for larger public companies such as universities, hospitals and schools if something were to occur and they had failed to uphold their financial or compliance responsibilities.”

6. Non-compliance negligence

In line with very public property defects, the NSW Building Commissioner has introduced greater accountability for fire practitioners and other building contractors in order to lift and maintain safety and quality standards. Councils oversee compliance and property owners who are negligent may face hefty fines.

“Councils police compliance requirements under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 2000. If council inspectors find any issues, they can put a fire order on the building. Owners must complete or have in place an approved works program of essential systems repairs/upgrades or attract penalties ranging from $1000/day to $10,000 per week – and the building may also need to be vacated depending on the size and nature of the problem – until the fire order is adequately resolved.

Owners then have to make the essential repairs or changes and penalties might range from $1000 to $10,000 per day, depending on the size and nature of the problems.”

7. AFSS certification

Property owners and managers are also responsible for the submission of Annual Fire Safety Statements (AFSS). As we’ve reported, NSW legislative changes first designed in 2017 stipulate that only accredited practitioners can undertake specific tasks, including validation of your Annual Fire Safety Statements, which are central to fire compliance.

“This has added an essential layer of compliance and more oversight for AFSS. This is now a legally binding document for all parties involved, including the property owner, manager, fire contractors and any other contractors, such as electricians, security or air conditioning specialists, who sign off on the AFSS,” adds Campbell.

8. Statutory compliance

All property owners must have systems in place to enable completion of AS 1851-2012 (Routine service of fire protection systems and equipment), which is the Australian standard for fire equipment asset management, in addition to other aligned standards within the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

Campbell states: “All asset owners and managers such as facility managers or retail managers have a duty of care to ensure the multiple fire protection systems – such as sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems and fire exit doors – operate correctly. This function is set by AS1851-2012 generally required in fire maintenance contracts. There are legal requirements for recording maintenance and reporting mechanisms for building owners and managers.

You must have in place an emergency response plan AS3745-2010 including conduct regular fire evacuation drills for your tenants, and you are obligated to contract fire protection professionals to conduct annual tests of all fire systems

Expert fire protection

The exact nature of your fire safety responsibilities may vary depending on the sophistication of your building; however, whether it’s a 40-storey high-rise tower or a four-storey residential apartment building, the basic obligations remain.

At DEM Fire, we can assist you with every aspect of your fire safety responsibilities, and with an in-house team of accredited fire practitioners, fire system designers, passive fire specialists and equipment testers, we can help you meet all of your obligations to protect life and property.

For comprehensive, tailored and expert fire protection, please contact us.

Contact DEM Fire & Essential Services Group

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