In response to tragic building fires such as the Grenfell Tower, regulators across the globe have reconsidered the way in which buildings are regulated to ensure they are safe for occupants. This has led to a raft of changes in Australia, and some of the most relevant for the Food and Beverage sector include the release of new competencies by the Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA) for Fire Safety Assessors.
The release of these competencies has come about as a result of changes made to NSW regulations requiring persons issuing Annual Fire Safety Statements to be “competent”. Until April this year, it was not clear who exactly could be deemed “competent”, with building owners left to make this decision themselves.
The process of issuing an Annual Fire Safety Statement is only a requirement in NSW, but there are similar processes in all states. In effect there is an annual assessment of the building’s essential services, to ensure they are operating as required. I often refer to this annual assessment as a critical “due diligence” action for ensuring building safety.
In fact, whilst many treat this annual exercise as purely a routine compliance requirement, for heavily occupied buildings, officers and directors of the business should be taking an active interest in what is a critical process in demonstrating their due diligence in providing a safe workplace.
Like any change there is a transition period as fire engineers go through the process of obtaining these competencies, but the process of annually reviewing the condition of essential services in a building is still required. Until such time as you can refer to a qualification such as the one proposed by FPAA, you should satisfy yourself that the person conducting the assessment is competent.
What do I need to do to ensure my buildings are safe?
Senior management of the organisation should have oversight over the annual process that ensures the buildings essential services, which includes the fire systems, are being maintained to an appropriate standard. Some questions to ask:
- When does the annual review of essential services take place?
- Who tests the essential services?
- Are they competent?
- Are they independent of the service provider?
- Are they confident the systems will perform to the required standard?
- Are there reports that have tested performance against design criteria?
- Are there service records of maintenance conducted?
- Were defects identified, what are they and have they been addressed?
In essence, these changes will improve building safety. The requirement for checking hasn’t changed, but these changes will ensure those providing you with this advice are held more accountable. The step change we encourage you to make is to be active in the process, and don’t just leave it to your service provider.
If you don’t understand the documentation provided, then ask the simple question of your service providers – is my building safe? If you still don’t have confidence, then seek an independent review. Better still, send your documents to Victual and we would be happy to review and provide some feedback.