Essential Safety Measures

‘We’re all going to jail!’ –  The sales pitch you unfortunately get when you often seek advice from some companies offering Essential Safety Measures advice. Essential Services are really not that complex. A good systematic approach with planned maintenance is a must, the scaremongering by some providers is not. The good providers of Essential Safety Measures advice and services will help educate you and work with you to resolve outstanding issues quickly. In some circumstances, for example you have only just been made aware of issues with ESM at your development, no Government Authority is going to beat you over the head with a stick, as long as you are working to resolve issues.

Essential Safety Measures

What are Essential Safety Measures?

ESM are the fire and life safety items installed or constructed in a building to ensure adequate levels of fire safety over the life of the building.

ESM include all traditional building fire services such as sprinklers, mechanical services etc., but also include passive fire safety such as fire doors, fire rated structure etc. and other building infrastructure items such as paths of travel to exits.

Why do they need to be maintained?

The objective of maintenance is to ensure that every ESM continues to perform at the same level of operation that existed at time of commissioning and issue of the occupancy permit.

ESM involves:

  • Ensuring the service is maintained at a level of performance specified by the relevant building surveyor. (Usually to the Building Code of Australia (BCA) or an Australian Standard.)
  • Periodical inspections and checks in accordance with an Australian Standard of specific method.
  • Maintaining a record of the maintenance inspections and checks in the form of an annual “ESM report”.

Reasons for ensuring maintenance of various services:

  • General wear and tear — i.e. electro-magnetic hold open devices on fire doors, shut down of air conditioning system in fire situation, replacement of emergency lighting batteries and tubes.
  • Reliability of a system operating — i.e. sprinkler system, mechanical ventilation system (used as a smoke hazard management system), early warning and intercommunication system.
  • Faults after commissioning of a system — i.e. emergency power supply.
  • General housekeeping — i.e. ensure paths of travel to exits are not obstructed, fire protective coverings are maintained, portable fire extinguishers remain in place.

What Buildings require maintenance of Essential Safety Measures?

The maintenance of essential safety measures applies to Class 1b, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 buildings as defined in the BCA. These classifications include multi-storey residential buildings, hotels/motels, offices, shops, warehouses, factories and hospitals/public buildings respectively.

Part 12 of the Building Regulations 2006(regulations) prescribe the requirement for maintenance of buildings and is divided into two divisions; buildings that were built before 1 July 1994 and buildings that were built after 1 July 1994.

What do you need to know about maintaining Essential Safety Measures?

An essential safety measure (ESM) is defined under the Building Regulations 2006 (the Regulations) as an item listed in Tables I1.1 to I1.11 of Volume One of the BCA, except the item in Table I1.4 relating to artificial lighting. This may include safety systems such as:

  • Air conditioning systems
  • Exit doors
  • Early warning systems

When the construction of a building is complete, the building owner is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance, particularly its safety features or essential safety measures.

The maintenance of essential safety measures will ensure that the safety systems dealing with predominantly fire situations within the building remain at the required operational level throughout the life of the building. The type of maintenance depends on the complexity of the safety measure, equipment or feature and the experience of the person carrying out the inspection or test.

What is an essential safety measure?

  • Emergency lighting
  • Emergency Lifts
  • Emergency power supply
  • Emergency warning systems
  • Exit signs
  • Discharge from exits to public road
  • Fire control centres
  • Fire control panel
  • Fire curtains and doors
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Fire detectors and alarm system
  • Fire dampers
  • Fire hydrants
  • Fire hose reels
  • Fire indices for materials
  • Fire isolated stairs, passageways and ramps
  • Fire rated control joints
  • Fire resisting structures
  • Fire windows
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Path of travel to exits
  • Penetrations in fire rated structures
  • Smoke alarms
  • Smoke control systems
  • Sprinkler systems

What type of buildings are affected?

All buildings other than a house or outbuilding are affected. These include the following Classes as defined in the Building Code of Australia:

Class 1b:

Some boarding houses, guest houses or hostels

Class 2:

Buildings containing sole-occupancy unit (e.g. apartments, blocks of flats)

Class 3:

Backpacker accommodation, residential parts of hotels or motels, residential parts of schools, accommodation for the aged, disabled or children

Class 5:

Offices for professional or commercial purposes

Class 6:

Shops or other buildings for sale of goods by retail cafés, restaurants, milk bars, dining rooms, and bars

Class 7:

Buildings used for car parks, storage or display of goods.

Class 8:

Laboratories or buildings for production or assembly of goods

Class 9:

Public buildings such as health care buildings or assembly buildings, nightclubs, bars etc.

What does the law require?

The Regulations require you as the building owner to maintain all safety fittings, equipment and safety features as well as those items listed as essential safety measures.

There are different obligations under the Regulations dependent on when the building was built or when building work occurred on that building. This is dealt with below.

Part 12 of the Regulations contains two divisions. Division 1 deals with maintenance of buildings and public entertainment and Division 2 deals with swimming pool and spa maintenance and operation.

Division 1 is then further divided into 3 subdivisions:

Subdivision 1 buildings constructed or altered since 1 July 1994,

Subdivision 2 sets out requirements for buildings constructed prior to1 July 1994,

Subdivision 3 sets out the requirements for the maintenance of exits and paths of travel.

For buildings constructed or altered since 1 July 1994, the relevant building surveyor at the end of the works would have issued you with an occupancy permit or certificate of final inspection which lists the:

  • Essential safety measure associated with the building work
  • Level of performance for each essential safety measure to fulfill its purpose
  • Frequency and type of maintenance required.

What are my responsibilities?

Councils have a responsibility under building legislation for the enforcement of building safety within their municipality. Building owners have an obligation to ensure that an essential safety measure, piece of safety equipment, fitting or other safety measure is maintained so that it operates satisfactorily.

Buildings built before 1 July 1994
(see below for renovations or alterations)

If your building was built before 1 July 1994, you are required to prepare an annual essential safety measures report. You are responsible for ensuring that any safety equipment, safety fittings or safety measures are maintained and fulfilling their purpose. This includes exits and paths of travel to exits. It is also advised that you keep records of maintenance checks, safety measure and repair work be kept so a municipal building surveyor or chief officer of the fire brigade can inspect them. These documents must be made available to the municipal building surveyor or the chief officer within 24 hours of notification.

And remember, if building work is carried out, these circumstances may change, so it is worth checking with a building surveyor to see what you need to do to comply with the Regulations.

Buildings constructed or altered since 1 July 1994

If your building was constructed or altered after 1 July 1994, the list of essential safety measures, including their performance level, frequency and type of maintenance required would be included with your occupancy permit or certificate of final inspection.

You are required to prepare an annual essential safety measures report on the buildings essential safety measures. You may choose to engage specialist maintenance contractors to assist in the preparation of the report. Owners are required to:

  • Display all current occupancy permits. This document can be framed, placed in a sealed, transparent or glass covered notice board or for multiple pages, the pages may be laminated so they can be suspended or fixed to the building
  • Place it in a prominent position as approved by the building surveyor
  • Check with your building surveyor to determine when compliance is required
  • The annual essential safety measures report is to be in accordance with the approved form (copies of this form are available from the Building Commission website)
  • All essential safety measure reports and records of maintenance checks, safety measure and repair work are to be kept on the premises for inspection and must be made available for inspection with 24 hours of notification.
  • The agent of the owner may complete the annual safety measures report if written delegation is provided.

By meeting these requirements you as the owner will have greater knowledge of the safety of your building and the system of building maintenance is transparent.

What happens if an owner doesn’t comply?

The municipal building surveyor or chief officer of the relevant fire brigade is responsible for the enforcement of these Regulations.

Non-compliance may result in an infringement notice issued by Council or the Fire Brigade up to $1000 and furthermore, non compliance may result in prosecution in which a fine may be imposed of $10,000 for an individual or $50,000 for companies for each breach of the Regulations. More importantly, non-compliance could place not only building occupants at risk but also those of passers-by and the occupants of adjoining buildings.

Adequate maintenance is the best means of ensuring that fire safety systems will operate reliably if an emergency arises.

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